Image: Finbarr O'Reilly/REUTERS
We think that our blog posts and articles are important because they provide indicators about how work is changing, and how learning might also need to change. Questions that guide our thinking are:
1. What trends are emerging in the work that people perform as a result of exponential technologies and disruptive innovation?
2. Which trends are likely to continue and accelerate, and how is work likely to be disrupted?
3. What knowledge, skills and competencies will people need to thrive in this new era of work?
4. What are the implications for learning?
The questions can vary, but the general theme does not.
We start with a comparison via https://www.weforum.org of two education systems almost as far apart as it's possible to be. One the one hand, we have Finland, widely hailed as a (the?) global leader in learning, redesigning every school according to open plan principles, with flexibility in timetable, programme, use of space, inter-disciplinary learning across all years (phenomenon-based learning), no external testing or evaluations, well-resourced, respected teachers - the list goes on. Arguably, this represents a mature, forward-thinking and innovative education system that is the gold standard for many economies globally.
On the other, we have Liberia. Ravaged by years of poverty and civil war, Liberia is seeking to more efficiently use the little money it does have per student (about US$100 per year) by forming private/public partnerships with established education providers. In a national trial, attendance has improved, 'ghost teachers' have been eliminated, the school day has lengthened and class sizes have been reduced. Other benefits also reducing dependence on foreign aid, the opportunity to modernise and become sustainable whilst retaining control of the curriculum and learning.
By comparison to Finland, these are small steps that address basic fundamentals, but they are significant. The work in Liberia is attracting interest from across Africa, and we look forward to following Liberia's progress as it starts to address teacher pedagogy and resourcing.
Liberian children deserve exactly the same opportunities for learning as those in Finland.
What type of learning system development pathway might Liberia follow? Can its education system leap forward, or does it need to move through a series of phases, with each being subsumed into the next?
Our next article from nature.com looks at how machine learning might disrupt the world of work in areas that were once deemed too complex to be automated, and explores how AI and humans can and do work in harmony. The article also discusses likely job and skills susceptible to disruption, touches on the growing gig economy (up to 50% of American workers in coming years, but there are problems) and concludes with sharing how the digital skills gap might be closed, with what does and doesn't appear to be working.
It was interesting to note that even well-designed training programmes "... might not be sufficient to ensure success in the world of digital work." Digital skills themselves are not enough - what other knowledge, skills. attitudes and values do people need to thrive in the emerging world of work? How might they learn them?
"Although robots and AI are unlikely to replace humans entirely, these and other rapidly evolving technologies do promise to revolutionise the workplace in the near future. "
This is an interesting piece of research from The Economist's Intelligence Unit, which surveyed 1200 teachers globally about how to best prepare students for the 'modern workplace' in which both hard and soft skills are essential. Key takeaways are:
1. A range of teaching and learning strategies is necessary, including project-based, personalised and active learning.
2. Technology can support the effective execution of these strategies.
3. Teachers need to be good at what they do.
4. Budget constraints limit the ability of schools innovate (see below for discussion).
5. Educators are generally cautious about adopting new strategies (important to note).
6. Businesses are already noticing the gap between the skills they need and the skills that new graduates actually demonstrate.
These findings are fairly consistent with the trends that observe in our research, but we do question 'budget constraints' being a primary reason why innovation can't happen in schools. Budgets certainly constrain a school's ability to purchase technology and provide professional development, but within schools action can be taken to manage and mitigate those constraints.
Financially, it costs nothing for a school to identify in-house expertise in project based learning and run professional development sessions during a series of staff meetings. It costs almost nothing to set up a teacher research group, decide on a class project or investigation and mobilise a community to help. It does take collaboration, planning and imagination.
To conclude this week, from our 'Robots are taking our jobs' desk we have two pieces of research. The first discusses the effects of robots on individuals and employment generally in Germany, an economy with many more robots per 1000 workers than elsewhere in Europe or the United States. Briefly, robots have had a significant negative impact on employment in certain industries, particularly automotive manufacturing. Robots have not (yet) affected employment as a whole, but there are challenges.
The second is from https://ark-invest.com, and looks at industrial robot cost decline. The average robot manufacturing unit will soon cost about US$11,000 each, down from US$120,000 20 years ago. Sales are expected to increase rapidly as costs continue to come down, and each robot will pay for itself in a matter of months - not good news for any worker in a repetitive manual role.
Are teachers in schools having these conversations with our students? Are our students aware of the skill sets they are going to need? Do they have the opportunity to learn about and practice these skills in school? If not, why not, and how can we change that?
Please comment on our articles and posts - we want to share ideas, critical thought and constructive conversation.