“Second jobs, however go to those who have strong basic skills, know how to learn, are comfortable with risk, have persistence, and can adapt, This is especially true in a period where jobs are changing rapidly”
(Bowen, J.A. 2012) Page 268
Most students go onto pursue a higher education in order to improve their career prospects. The National Committee of Inquiry into Higher Education in the United Kingdom (Dearing, R. 1997) found that 29% of students surveyed went to university to help get a better job while 19% needed a particular qualification in order to pursue their chosen career. As educators I think we have to ask ourselves, are the programs we are teaching creating students who have the requisite skills that will allow them to flourish in our rapidly changing world, or are we merely turning out students who have put in their time and done the required work and achieved enough credits in order to achieve a credential in order to enter their chosen career path?
This is especially true today, as technological advances not only having an incredible impact on what and how we teach, but on our economy and society as well. Globalization and automation have impacted jobs in the manufacturing sector so that in the U.S. they have declined from 30% of all jobs in the economy to less than 10% since the 1950’s. (1) By expanding our post secondary education system, we were able to train people in the needed skills for the jobs that the new “knowledge” economy demanded. This ameliorated the social and economic disruption to some extent.
However as machines are becoming more and more capable of analyzing metadata , drawing patterns and learning from it, and algorithms are becoming even more sophisticated many of the careers that students are studying for today, may be gone tomorrow. A recent study commissioned by the Oxford Martin School found that 47% of current U.S. jobs could be automated within the next 20 years. Even as students study half of what they learn in their first year of study will be outdated by their third year. (2) As Dr. Bowen illustrates in “Teaching Naked” colleges and universities will have to undergo a radical change if they wish to keep on attracting students, especially if they are no longer seen as a way to a rewarding career in the economy of the future.
As someone who has had to move and adapt and relearn over the course of my working life in order to stay employed, I appreciate the immense challenges that my students will be facing in the future. I worry that I might be teaching them skills and giving them information that will become irrelevant over the course of their careers. An example of this happened in my own vocational training where we spent most of our time practicing gas and stick welding in class and no time using wire welding machines, only to see them widely used in industry less than five years later.
I am also fearful of the world described in Frey and Osborne’s report where jobs will be divided between a small group of highly skilled, well compensated workers on one end of the spectrum and poorly paid, unskilled jobs on the other and virtually nothing in the middle. This is vastly different from the world I grew up in and as history has shown us, such societies are highly unstable. (3) In the past, schools have been able to educate workers so they could adapt and thrive in a changing economy, but as machines become smarter and are able to take on increasingly skilled work requiring more cognitive skills this might not be possible in the future.
As educators striving to meet the challenges of the future, we have to be very clear about we are offering our students, “…the degree is a unit of packaging, not the product. The real product is learning” (Bowen, J.A. 2012) Page 259. We must promote student centred learning that concentrates on having them master basic skills, teach them how to learn, encourage them to become life long learners, encourage them to persist and take risks, and stress the importance of adaptation and the dangers of complacency. I can see a real revolution happening in our education system as we move away from a system that is centred on a solitary pursuit of content to a system that emphasizes collaboration and innovative thinking amongst our students.
We can’t predict what will happen in the next 20 years, only that all social systems, including education, will be very different from what they are today. Just as the technology available in the schools today is so very different than 20 years ago. The internet has replaced the school library. But when one looks at the challenges facing students in today’s economy compared to those faced 20 years ago, one sees the immense importance of good educators and adaptive systems that actually promote learning and the creation of knowledge. The one thing that hasn’t changed over the last 2,000 years is the ability of good educators to inspire their students to boldly go forward into the future and thrive.
Bowen, J. A. (2012). Teaching naked: How moving technology out of your college classroom will improve student learning. John Wiley & Sons.
Dearing, R. (1997). Higher education in the learning society.
Frey, C. B., & Osborne, M. A. (2013). The future of employment: how susceptible are jobs to computerisation?. Retrieved September, 7, 2013.
Janmaat, J. G., & Green, A. (2013). Skills inequality, adult learning and social cohesion in the United Kingdom. British Journal of Educational Studies, 61(1), 7-24.