Susena, a grade 3 student in a low-income private school in Bangalore, is the top scorer in every exam at school. However, ask her to write any exam beyond those which the school conducts and she shies away. John, a grade 5 student in the same school, is a topper in English in his class. One would expect him to readily participate in the elocution competition conducted in his school. But he doesn’t. He backs out saying that he is not confident.
Susena and John are no exceptions. There are thousands of children who go through their schooling with their focus on the syllabus that will prepare them for an exam, rather than on skills which will prepare them for life.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) has already infiltrated the workforce and has begun to replace most of the manual jobs that exist in the world today. Studies have found that “robotics and artificial intelligence will permeate wide segments of daily life by 2025.”
Talent Culture, an online community and editorial outlet that publishes articles about present and future work trends, explains, “the types of jobs most at risk are those that are repetitive, sequential and/or subject to a set of ‘if-then’ rules—even if those ‘rules’ are quite sophisticated.” Both blue collar and white collar workers have actually lost their jobs to AI, from gas station attendants to bank tellers and travel agents.
At the same time, new job roles that do not exist today will come into existence. With regard to this, the education system has an important question to answer: which skills in particular are AI-proof for the future?
Primary education, in every era, has prepared children not for the immediate goals and roles but for those of the future. A 10-year-old girl today, in 2019, would be joining the workforce in around 2030. Given the pace of change, there is no knowing what the world will be like then.
The World Economic Forum in its ‘the Future of Jobs’ report focuses on 3 skills that will prepare our children for tomorrow: problem-solving skills, creativity and emotional intelligence.
Today, education in schools focuses mostly on the transfer of information. However, for the workforce of tomorrow, more important than knowledge acquisition is the ability to identify a problem and solve it. Take the example of Moulya, a grade 3 child who is good at solving number problems, but struggles with word problems as they require her to identify the problem and the solutions and then, figure out the correct one to solve the problem.
It is time we realize that mere knowledge gain will not make students ready for the jobs of the future. The ability to identify problems, review all related information to develop solutions and implement the solutions is one of the core skills that will be of great value in an era ruled by Artificial Intelligence (AI).
Expression of creativity in our schools has, so far, been seen only in the form of drawing, art and craft. But creativity is not limited only to the arts. It can be applied in Math and Science as well. Interestingly, according to the World Economic Forum report, creativity, i.e., the ability to think and create new ideas, is one skill that cannot be replaced by Artificial Intelligence. Allowing students to question, to be curious, to be open to making mistakes, to have time to play, research says, are some of the best ways through which creativity can be fostered in schools.
Social and emotional abilities are unique to humans. These are capabilities which technology or Artificial Intelligence will have trouble replicating. They are the core of the future jobs. An intelligent machine, for example, may be able to diagnose an illness better and even suggest an array of treatments better than a doctor. However, it takes a person to talk to the patient, understand his or her life situation, finances, family and quality of life and then, finalize the optimal treatment plan.
At any given time, emotional intelligence is essential for lasting happiness, successful careers and healthy relationships. Social Emotional Learning (SEL) gives students a framework for developing EI. At school, SEL helps students improve cooperation, communication and decision making, thereby preparing them for the future.
In a nutshell, technology can never replace skills which are inimitably human. And as responsible educators, we should focus on learning opportunities in our curriculum that enhance problem-solving skills, creativity and emotional intelligence.