Education and the Future Economy
December 7, 2017
On this episode of The Digital Life, we chat about the future of education and skills our children may need in the next economy. A recent article featured on the World Economic Forum Web site, “Forget coding, we need to teach our kids how to dream”, argues that attributes like relationships, curiosity, agility, creativity, and empathy, will be more important for the economy of 2030, rather than skills that could very well be subsumed by machine automation, like, for instance, coding. Join us as we discuss.
Forget coding, we need to teach our kids how to dream
Designing for Emerging Technologies
So I thought that was a interesting way to frame this discussion of what it is that kids should be learning to deal with the chaotic soup that is the emerging next economy and how do we really prepare our kids to survive and thrive in a economic scenario where so much is uncertain driven by any number of factors, emerging technologies being just one of those. I think this is a key discussion, education, this is an absolutely key discussion for the future of our economy and for really the future of our work whether you’re talking about our kids or even if you’re talking about people who are working right now. I think it’s going to affect us all and is already affecting us. So I thought that was a terrific jumping off point, Dirk, for our podcast today.
Let me start by … There’s so many things to touch on here, but I’ll start off by talking about one of the things that I’m really passionate about, which is this idea of learning constantly, right. So you have the example of let’s just call it our parents’ generation for lack of a better term. This idea that your job is this place you can go for 30 years and retire with a pension. You move up the food chain a little bit and then, you stay and sort of grind it out and then-
One thing I recommend is having a couple of different learning systems established that they can develop throughout their university years and whether that is, “Hey, I really like reading about something and then I blog about it.” I’m just making this up. Like “I take the things that I learn in a book and I write a summary and a critique, right. That’s how I ingest and digest the information,” or perhaps you’re more of a hands-on learner, maybe your technique is you go and do some tutorials and you build something, right. What is your learning system? How is it that you take in new technologies, new ideas, test them out, incorporate them into your day-to-day workflow. What are the methods that you use?
I tend to prefer like hard copy books, right, and part of the reason is I get to draw all over them. I get to highlight them. I get to circle things, write in the margins, etc., and that’s a very tactile and physical way for me to help embed that information in my brain. If I don’t do that, I don’t get the same quality of learning. So I’ve over time developed three or four different things that reinforce learning that create a cycle for me so I can take in new information and like I said, incorporate that into my day-to-day life.
So I really suggest to any students in the classroom when I’m giving this talk that they do the same and that they might have their own ways of doing it, but that you have this system that’s replicable and that you can build on. So with that in mind, Dirk, how do you learn? How do you see yourself taking in new information? Because I know you’ve changed the things you do a number of times and really taken different perspectives on things and had many different skill sets that you brought to bear.
I mean the article was talking about taking a new look at education and you were talking about I think some very smart approaches of identifying learning styles and creating system of lifelong learning and that all makes a lot of sense and the things that the article that you pointed us to, we’re talking about makes sense, too. My concern with all of it though is even though it’s smart and it does make sense from where we’re at today, I think it’s a very sort of techno utopic way of looking at things.
Let’s focus on the article, more so because I think the article gave good grist to talk against this. The article is very wisely saying by 2030, we don’t know what kind of things we’re going to be doing. We don’t know what kind of skills we’re going to need. So let’s develop imagination. Let’s develop curiosity. That’s where it falls down for me because we really don’t know what we’re going to be doing in 2030 and there’s a non-zero chance that by 2030, we’re at a point where not everyone needs to work and that’s okay, that we’ve changed where socially instead of saying “Everyone should be gainfully employed.” We say, “No, our country’s success, the world’s success,” however we’re framing the macro and the micro at that point in time, “maybe we don’t need or maybe we don’t want everyone to be employed in those ways.”
That could be our children looking at their Gen X parents and saying, “Yeah, our parents had this weird notion you had to be working and what the hell is up with that?” I think there’s a reasonable chance that that’s a possibility, too. In that context, I don’t know that imagination and curiosity are the best things. My curiosity has created instability in my life. My curiosity has gotten me in trouble a lot in my life. Education is something very near and dear to my heart. I mean I gave my first public talk on this in 2011 called Time and Tools for Change and at that time, and I still frankly believe this, I was on stage I was saying, “Fuck STEM, man, fuck STEM.” We’re all wrapped up in STEM and at the same time, more than half of all marriages end in divorce. We have, I don’t know, what is it, 1 in 5 or 1 in 4 women who go to a college or university will be the victim of attempted sexual assault. There’s all of these statistics, horrible statistics about how socially broken we are.
With marriage, we make the biggest commitment one person can make to another person, the biggest fucking promise, and more than half of the time that biggest promise is reneged upon. The crimes that I mentioned before have the potential to scar and change the entire rest and trajectory of someone’s life for being a victim of that. These are horrific things. So I don’t want us talking about curiosity and imagination. I want us talking about relationship skills. I want us talking about controlling our impulses, controlling our needs. I want us to talk about figuring out how as a social system to not have crimes being perpetrated, to not have a system forcing us to make these big grandiose promises and then breaking them.
To me, that’s where education needs to shift. It needs to shift away from 1 plus 2 and E equals MC squared to how in the hell do we have productive relationships with one another? How do we live in a way so that we’re not criminals? I mean when I did the research in 2011, there’s a category of crimes and I won’t get the term right anymore, but it’s like something violent crimes, the worst of the violent crimes. The number one predictor of if someone is such a criminal is are they male or not. The number two predictor is what is their age group. The number three predictor is what is their socio-economic status.
We can counter, reverse engineer why horrible things are happening in our world and we can address those horrible things, but we’re not talking about them. We’re saying “Yay, STEM, yay, imagination, yay, inspiration, yay, curiosity,” and we’re leaving behind and ignoring the most important things of all, which are protecting each other and nurturing each other and creating systems where we’re living in better ways and that’s going to be relevant if we are doing the exact same jobs in 2030 as we’re doing today or we’re doing totally different jobs or we’re doing no jobs at all. This other stuff is totally speculative and having us learn about creativity and imagination to me is just as vapid as having us learn about STEM.
I think that I want to go back to what you were saying about there not being a need for everybody to work or for a part of people not having to work in this sort of 2030 and beyond next economy. I actually think that the way we’ve defined work is very, very narrow given our sort of post industrial, like sort of digital economy now and to speak to your point about the social from a different angle, I think we’ve actually made it very difficult to do the kinds of things you’re talking about, sort of paying attention to social systems because as we’re moving into this digital world, a lot of the fundamental organizations that made up the industrial economy whether you’re talking about groups like your church or the lions group or-
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