More and more experts agree that the world job market is in for a disruption that is unprecedented, or at least that hasn’t been seen since the Industrial Revolution. In a decade or so, automation born from artificial intelligence (AI) development is expected to take over jobs in a number of industries — from transportation to manufacturing, finance, and even information technology. To prepare for job displacement, particularly those considered to be minimum income work, some experts have been advocating for a universal basic income.
In the face of the looming intelligent automation and political threats against economic development—such as growing resistance against globalism—Kim warned that the world is following a “crash course.”
“If your aspirations start to rise but then there’s no opportunity it can lead to fragility, conflict, violence,” Kim explained to the BBC. “This is the crash course we’re going down.” Hence, there’s a need to create more opportunities for people, which starts by investing on human capital. This marks a change in the World Bank’s development approach.
Automation and Human Jobs
It’s normal for any meaningful development to have a good and bad side, and automation is a product of how good technology has become. AI has given birth to autonomous systems that will let cars, ships, and even planes operate themselves more safely, or run stores and factories more cost-effectively. Then, of course, as machines get better at doing work human beings used to do, it becomes more efficient to “hire” them instead.
Many have chosen to look at this intelligent automation with gloomy expectations, but some see a potential for humankind to progress. Google chief engineer and famous “future teller” Ray Kurzweil said that automation would give rise to new jobs—professions which haven’t been invented yet, he said. Tesla CEO and founder Elon Musk said something similar, noting how automation would give humanity more time to pursue leisure.
In any case, both ideas seem to agree with the World Bank president’s point: to prepare for automation, one has to invest in people. “The one thing you know for sure that you’ll need, in whatever the economy looks like in the future, is people who can learn,” Kim told the BBC. “We want to create a sense of urgency to invest in people that we think is necessary given the way […] the global economy is changing.”
Automation will happen—in fact, it’s already begun. The only thing we can do now is to make sure humankind is ready to accept the new economy it will bring. What’s clear is that humanity’s ingenuity will surely find a way to cope.
Despite being involved with a number of companies intent on making the future happen (or perhaps because of it) Elon Musk has always been interested with education. His efforts include a competition that helps students and startups develop working models for the futuristic hyperloop. More recently, Musk has donated $15 million to an XPRIZE program called Global Learning.
The XPRIZE Foundation is a non-profit organization that designs and promotes public competitions that seek to bring about technological developments beneficial to humanity. One of their programs is the Global Learning XPRIZE, the goal of which is to “empower children to take control of their learning.” More specifically, the program “challenges teams from around the world to develop open source and scalable software” to help children in developing countries teach themselves basic literacy and arithmetic skills within 15 months.
On Monday, five finalists were chosen to advance in the contest, each receiving a $1-million milestone prize. The team’s education technology solutions will be put to a field test in Tanzania this November, in partnership with UNESCO and the World Food Program (WFP).
Investing in the Future
The five finalists, which include CCI from New York, Chimple from India, Berkeley-based Kitkit School, a program called onebillion, and RoboTutor from Pittsburgh, will have to demonstrate proficiency gains in about 4,000 children in 150 Tanzanian villages after 15 months. The one that achieves this — to be announced on April 2019 — will receive the $10 million grand prize.
For years, researchers have asserted that teaching young people how to thrive in the STEM industries will help them succeed in this future workforce. However, amidst a climate of science denial, some experts argue that education is lagging behind the rapid economic developments in motion all over the world.
University of Helsinki professor of pedagogy Kristiina Kumpulainen is one such expert. “Society and the demands of the workforce are changing at a rapid rate, as is our perception of what to teach children and what they need to know to survive,” she explained to Scientific American. “The school environment, teaching methods, and the content aren’t relatable or inspiring to them any longer, which creates motivational problems.”
Furthermore, according to Carnegie Mellon University STEM education experts David Kosbie, Andrew W. Moore, and Mark Stehlik, the U.S. is notably behind peer nations. Only about 40 percent of U.S. schools teach programming, and the programs of those that do vary widely in terms of rigor and quality. In one-third of U.S. states, computer science credits don’t count toward graduation requirements.
In contrast, Israel, the U.K., Germany, and Russia have all integrated computer science into their school curricula for children. And while President Obama’s 2016 “Computer Science for All” initiative was an important step, the budget cuts proposed by the Trump administration and the educational priorities of the new Department of Education leadership threaten to jeopardize the program, which is already reliant upon private funding since Congress has not approved its budget.
Teaching STEM to Children
Research has shown that connecting educational experiences to real-life opportunities is an effective way to get students excited about what they’re learning. Engagement is always an educational challenge, but because young students are prone to perceiving STEM subjects in particular as boring, nerdy, or dull, there are additional hurdles in this area.
When learning happens in a vacuum, without those real-world connections, teachers have an even tougher time engaging students and inspiring them to feel passionate and motivated.
Fun STEM initiatives can help combat these problems.
Apps like Detective Dot, which teaches coding through storytelling, can make learning and applying coding and STEM skills enjoyable and provide students with positive, diverse images of children excelling in STEM subjects. Math circles have been growing in popularity, and these provide an imaginative, safe space for children to learn to love math and acquire new skills.
First Robotics teams, Rube Goldberg contests, and other activities from similar programs are popping up across the country, offering kids a chance to work with engineers and other STEM professionals to build robots for competitions.
To further help young people prepare for future STEM careers, professionals working in those industries can partner with schools to mentor, offer their experience, and present on their work. This kind of connection can show students what working in STEM industries is like and help create exciting learning environments in science classrooms.
“Education is everyone’s responsibility. We should be making sure that students know how subjects relate to the industry,” Kerrine Bryan, founder of Butterfly Books, told Scientific American. “What they are learning at school relates to real-life things, and knowing that helps them to make important decisions, such as what further education subjects they want to study or what skills they want to go into.”
Employers are grappling with how to deal with the new wave of digital labor artificial intelligence (AI) will provide, which requires a huge number of technical roles like coders — what are now known as “new collar jobs.”The US Department of Labor states that there are hundreds of thousands of positions currently vacant. If AI is set to automate roles that only humans could fill previously, then individuals who can develop, streamline, or augment AI are in top demand.
However, there is a scarcity in supply, which is amplified by the fact that gifted coders may not be aware of the industry; ideal candidates are thin on the ground. This has caused companies to offer high salaries and attractive perks to promising candidates. To give a little perspective, jobs that require coding are now in the top income quartile.
Due to this shortage, and with apocalyptic predictions concerning the effect of the technology’s proliferation — with it possibly replacing 850,000 workers by 2030 — employers are turning to new models of integration. One of the key developments is a Silicon Valley model to retrain workers rather than to search for new talent.
Rather than enter into bidding wars for talent, or risk important positions remaining unfilled, employers have found that retraining employees offers a comparatively quicker solution. It also comes with the benefit of not having to adapt a new employee to the intricacies and principles of a business. As Matt Norton, VP of Sales Engineering at Box, told techcrunch.com, “Enabling employees from the customer support team to retrain as engineers allowed us to fill open technical roles faster and also retain the institutional and product knowledge our best-performing employees had already developed.”
This comes with the benefit of having multifaceted employees who can adapt to changes in demands in different sectors of a company on a daily basis.
The Mutual Benefit
In short, retaining creates a mutually beneficial scenario in which the employee develops new skills (which 61 percent of Americans under thirty view as necessary), retains their job, and offers better customer service due to a wider knowledge. The employer gains a multifaceted employee capable of working in a number of areas, does not have to offer exorbitant salaries to attract talent, and does not have to deal with the problems of unfilled positions.
The mutual benefit within the company then leads to a better situation for customers which is amplified by the benefits AI can provide — these include greater efficiency, collecting data for analysis (which 44 percent of executives believe is artificial intelligence’s biggest benefit), and ingenious solutions based on deep learning.
Onereach found that “80% of executives believe artificial intelligence improves worker performance and creates jobs,” although the precise nature of how it will remains an enigma. AI will effect the entire spectrum of the job market, from retail to white collar positions. Retraining is one possible solution that applies to every industry, potentially generating benefits in the entire business world — it is a partial solution for the damage the introduction of AI to the workforce could cause.
Another solution that is being proposed is restructuring the education system to train people to fit these roles, rather than retraining them. Over the last five years, IBM has been testing a six year high school program that synthesizes traditional education with work experience and mentoring initiatives. Former President Obama called the idea “outstanding.”
AI is set to change the world radically, so it is important that ideas such as retraining and changing models of education are being developed in order to stop workers getting the raw end of an integration that will, ultimately, benefit customers, employees, and employers.
“Ideally, what should be said to every child, repeatedly, throughout his or her school life is something like this: ‘You are in the process of being indoctrinated. We have not yet evolved a system of education that is not a system of indoctrination. We are sorry, but it is the best we can do. What you are being taught here is an amalgam of current prejudice and the choices of this particular culture. The slightest look at history will show how impermanent these must be. You are being taught by people who have been able to accommodate themselves to a regime of thought laid down by their predecessors. It is a self-perpetuating system. Those of you who are more robust and individual than others will be encouraged to leave and find ways of educating yourself — educating your own judgements. Those that stay must remember, always, and all the time, that they are being moulded and patterned to fit into the narrow and particular needs of this particular society.” – Dori Lessing in The Golden Notebook
Automation will make most jobs obsolete. Rather than mourn the loss of the 9 to 5, we should see this as an opportunity to liberate humanity from the need to work for somebody else to survive. Coupled with universal basic income, it should be seen as a chance for every individual in society to more fully realize their potential.
To do so we will also need to redefine and reform education. Today it is a means to an end, a way of getting a job; but education should be seen as a lifelong quest and automation enables us to take this view. No longer will we need to confine ourselves to learning one tiny branch of knowledge or developing one particular skill, instead we will each be able to examine what really matters to us and explore all the variety that life has to offer.
Education reform could also enable us to improve our democracies. Democracy relies on the wisdom of crowds, but our crowds are no longer wise because most people don’t have time to learn about all of the issues at stake in each election so they vote based on a handful of issues that they think are most important to them. Rather than producing leaders who inspire, this has led to populist strong men who appeal to our fears.
We do not have to be stuck in this paradigm forever; automation and universal basic income along with education reform have the potential to give us the time and the tools we need to be able to make more informed decisions.
The biggest leap could come from incorporating the blockchain to enable a return to direct democracy where everyone has a say in every issue they deem relevant to them instead of the present system where we exercise what little political rights we have by casting a vote every few years to pick someone to make decisions for us.
Reform Has Begun
All of this relies on having an education system that gives everyone, children and adults alike, the tools, knowledge and skills needed to contribute and engage in society.
Some schools are already catching on and have begun implementing sorely needed change in the classroom. One such school is High Park Day School in Toronto where they have gotten rid of traditional classrooms, rote based learning, and curriculum geared around testing and grades. Instead they have small integrated classrooms with students of varying age ranges that are built on project based learning assignments where students learn and apply skills like 3d printing and software design starting from as young as grade 1.
As Amanda Dervaitis, the Principal and founder of High Park Day School states…
“At a systemic level, I believe we are focusing on the wrong markers of “success” which end up driving curriculum development and policy. The focus is on the fundamentals – reading, writing and math, and improvement plans work towards strengthening these areas to increase “success”. However, we should be focusing on the skills identified that are needed for success in today’s global and technological world; critical thinking, collaboration, communication, computational thinking, global digital citizenship, etc.
The lack of tech curriculum integration should be particularly concerning. Right now, you can graduate from high school in Ontario without having taken a single tech or computers course! Schools are increasing access to use of computers, tablets, etc. in the classroom, but it’s not enough to interact with computers at a consumer level in school. We need to implement technology curriculum (computational thinking, coding, systems, etc.) so that students have a deep understanding of computer technology and are more prepared for a technological future.
The size of our schools and school systems is impeding the development of skills (on a personal level) and progressive programs (on a board/systems level). The factory model no longer serves our students’ needs and the changes in our world have out-paced the potential of our school to support them. Every industry is in an “adapt or die” situation with the advances of technology. The ministry itself will not “fail” as a system (as there is no competition to contend with), however, our education system will fail our students, and society in the end.”
We here at Futurism know that science is cool and do our part to spread that message far and wide. We are certainly not alone in this goal. Some of the biggest supporters of science and all the potential it harnesses are also some of the most famous faces in show business.
Academy Award-winning filmmaker Ron Howard, one of these famous faces, recently spoke on his part in that mission. The acclaimed director of such science-related films as Apollo 13 and A Beautiful Mind recently spoke to CNN about his role in making science more attractive. He said, “This is a time to remind audiences how important science can be, how important it’s been to us in the past, and what the possibilities are for the future.”
His most recent work, Genius, explores the life of the seminal scientific figure Albert Einstien with big budget Hollywood flair, combined with more down-to-Earth documentary elements that come together into a thoroughly entertaining and educational experience.
Other modern science communicators often use similar tactics of showmanship to explain important scientific topics to a greater audience. Take, for instance, everyone’s favorite science guy, Bill Nye, and his show Bill Nye Saves the World on Netflix. Additionally, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson often uses pop culture to open up conversations regarding complex scientific principles.
The cult of celebrity is nothing new to our modern era. However, the power that social media and seemingly endless access to content give entertaining science communicators an edge in shaping minds to help usher in a smarter, and more scientific, future.
The Microsoft HoloLens has tremendous potential in education, providing 3D models that can better explain complex subjects like physics and anatomy. Lifeliqe is one company developing a HoloLens app that offers a range of lesson plans and models. They’re currently testing the app in middle school classrooms
Education is the cornerstone of society. This is because knowledge is the only thing that lets one be an informed and productive member of society. Of course, education is not limited to just traditional schooling (i.e. a classroom), but includes knowledge gleaned from friends, family, mentors, personal experiences, and on and on.
That said, in our society, traditional schooling is a major part of how we educate the coming generations.
Today, we spend our most formative years in school, learning about the world and how to function in it. In the modern world, which is continually becoming more globalized, it is more important than ever to be able to think critically and analytically about all aspects of our world—from politics, to economics, to the arts, to (of course) science and technology.
A well-rounded liberal arts education can provide this to its students. According to Willard Dix, a college admissions expert and contributor to Forbes, “a liberal arts education provides a multi-faceted view of the world. It enables students to see beyond one perspective, encouraging them to understand others’ even if they don’t agree. It instructs us to base our opinions on reason, not emotion.”
And at a time of increasing polarization, dialogue and understanding are invaluable qualities.
Even disciplines that are thought to be exclusively “fact-based,” such as the STEM fields, can greatly benefit from a liberal arts focus, as critical thinking skills are what allow individuals to analyze and make meaning from new information and move fluidly through society and careers. Case in point, the current president of Miami University, Gregory Crawford, went to school to study physics and now, as an education administrator, he advocates for an educational system that is multifaceted:
There are extraordinary skill sets to learn from the liberal arts, like communication, analytical skills, writing, global awareness. Can you tell a story in a world of data and analytics? When students are exposed to the liberal arts they become more self-aware, more self-disciplined and develop other virtues like empathy and courage.
A liberal arts focus not only can prepare students for the job market, but also life after college in general.
Speaking of the job market, education, in general, is about to become even more of a requirement, thanks to the steady rise of automation. Experts predict that developed countries may lose a staggering 30 percent of jobs in the next 15 years. Much of this job loss, if not all of it, will impact blue collar workers—a study from the National Bureau of Economic Research says that each robot that makes its way into the workforce replaces six humans.
Thus, as the years progress, industries that used to be home to extremely well paying blue collar positions will increasingly become a thing of the past.
However, individuals that have an understanding of a broad spectrum of fields will largely be able to protect themselves from the impact of automation, as they will be able to seamlessly (or more seamlessly) move between industries. This adaptability is precisely what a liberal arts education, at its best, provides. But there is a problem for those pursuing such an education in the United States: Money.
One of the most significant obstacles to an education for young adults today is debt, and a significant portion of that comes from education. Student debt in the United States has hit an unbelievable $1.2 trillion, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. A trillion of those dollars belong to federal student loans. While other nations face affordability issues of their own, the situation in the United States is extreme.
The United States is the fourth most expensive country in which to get a college education, with the average cost being greater than $29,300 each year, according to a list compiled by FairFX. Increases in cost are not showing any signs of slowing, and with figures like that, higher education is no longer just out of reach to the poorest Americans. Now, many mid-level American families also can’t make the cut.
What can be done to ensure everyone will be equipped to thrive in the workforce of the very near future?
In Germany, they answered that question by eliminating tuition costs altogether. The country abolished tuition all the way back in 1971. They were briefly brought back from 2006 – 2014, but they were removed again due to widespread problems, even though the costs only averaged €500 ($630 USD).
In fact, more than 40 countries around the world offer free higher education. Obviously, when people use the word “free” what they really mean is that nations use tax dollars to pay for education in the same way that they use tax dollars to pay for subsidies for corn and fossil fuels and to pay for war efforts (do keep in mind, the United States has a defense budget larger than many developed nations combined).
But now, thanks to a recent development, it looks like the United States is going to start reallocating funds to test the free tuition waters.
Empire State of Mind
Recently, Governor Andrew Cuomo made New York the first state in the country to offer a tuition-free four-year education for residents. Dubbed the Excelsior Scholarship program, it will provide four years of college tuition for families who make less than $100,000 per year. The program will begin this fall, with the income cap raising by $10,000 in 2018 and an additional $15,000 the following year.
The governor said, “Today, college is what high school was—it should always be an option even if you can’t afford it.”
NBC News tells us that this plan will benefit a remarkable 80 percent of the state’s families with college-age kids. The plan also requires that students complete at least 30 credits per year and stay within their program’s minimum GPA requirements. There are also requirements regarding living and working in the state for a certain period after graduation, which will ensure that students give back to the state that is paying for their education. Governor Cuomo explained the importance of this move in his statement:
The Excelsior Scholarship will make college accessible to thousands of working and middle class students and shows the difference that government can make. There is no child who will go to sleep tonight and say, ‘I have great dreams, but I don’t believe I’ll be able to get a college education because my parents can’t afford it.’ With this program, every child will have the opportunity that education provides.
While many families may be overjoyed with the opportunities this will provide their children, other entities were not so keen when the idea was proposed. Some private colleges, including the Governor’s own alma-mater, even went so far as to ask their students to oppose this historic move.
For example, the president of Keuka College, a small liberal arts school in central New York, Jorge L. Díaz-Herrera, sent an email to his students urging them to oppose the program.
While it is understandable that private colleges may fear the future, efforts such as the ones outlined here come off as tone-deaf, at best, or selfish, at worst. Keuka is a school that is well out of the price range of most individuals, costing a staggering 40K a year. And while there are some programs that assist low-income students, the cost is beyond the affordability of most.
Ultimately, such call to action does not seem to fully weigh the (very justifiable) panic of students, which has become endemic in today’s higher education climate. And of course, the letter makes no mention of the “940,000 middle-class families” who will be able to send their children to school as a result of this legislation, many of which may not have had the luxury before its passing.
Since the passing earlier this month, Keuka has released another statement.
It’s too early for any of us in New York’s private colleges and universities to know what this will mean for recruitment and retention at our institutions. But what we do know is that competition is the bedrock of our economic system. To stay competitive, Keuka College must continue to adapt and change.
They may not be celebrating the news, but they have gotten to the heart of the matter: Just as the workforce is going to have to adapt and change with the proliferation of automation, our educational institutions are going to have to change to accommodate that workforce and lead them to be fully capable of thriving in the economy and society of tomorrow.
To remain a global leader, we will need to rethink how we educate and seriously consider the barriers that exist that limit who can benefit. Those conversations need to start now.
As automation continually becomes a larger threat to human jobs, Canada is taking action. Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada, recently made public statements about the country’s plans for dealing with these rising trends. Instead of ignoring the issue, or pretending like it’s something we won’t have to deal with for a long time, Canada has formed a comprehensive strategy.
We know that the job market is changing, and instead of resisting in vain, we’re focused on funding research and innovation, like in AI and quantum computing, that’ll help lead the change here in Canada. And while we do that, we’re preparing Canadians to find good jobs through investments in education and training.
This plan is important to take note of, because job loss due to automation has already begun to take effect. And, while the White House has released similar intentions to focus on research and education, programs will need to be incorporated and explored much sooner than most people assume.
In fact, just within the next 15 years, we are expected to lose up to 30% of jobs to automation in the U.S. alone. And, while many may scoff with ambivalence in assuming that the jobs lost will be only low-paying jobs in customer service, IT, or in factories, they are absolutely wrong. Just this past year, artificially intelligent (AI) lawyers became less of a novelty and more of a reality. There are virtually (pun intended) no jobs that exist that would not be threatened by growing automation.
The Future of The Middle Class
What many fear is that, as automation replaces more and more jobs, the middle class will disappear. Even Stephen Hawking thinks that this is a real and dangerous possibility. This future is possible if we do not plan effectively for the progression of automation. Without a quality strategy in place, jobs will only exist for the ultra-privileged. Manufacturing jobs are already feeling the burn of automation-caused job loss, and this trend will continue through many other job fields.
And so, as Trudeau has asserted about Canada, investing in education and research will “create jobs and grow the middle class.” This plan will support additional job training, education, and even post-secondary education for all citizens. In fact, to support unemployed citizens, Trudeau writes that Canada’s 2017 budget aims “to provide $132.4 million over four years, beginning next year, and $37.9 million per year thereafter, to allow unemployed Canadians to pursue self-funded training while receiving Employment Insurance benefits.”
The Canadian government additionally plans “to invest in 13,000 work-integrated learning placements for students to help young Canadians transition from school to work.” It seems as though Canada has every intention to fully support its citizens from the beginning of their careers up through all levels of employment. And, while there will still be difficulties as automation makes more and more jobs obsolete, supporting education will undoubtedly improve the situation. Education leads to innovation, which leads to job creation. It’s simple, but undeniably effective.
Elon Musk seems to be making headlines every day with his spaceships and solar panels and gigafactories and colonies on mars and secret tunnels and AI labs and self-driving cars. However, there is one thing he did that might be even more noteworthy yet did not draw nearly as much attention. He didn’t like the way his kids were being educated so he pulled them out of their fancy private school and started his own.
The school’s name is Ad Astra, meaning ‘to the stars’, and seems to be based around Musk’s belief that schools should “teach to the problem, not to the tools.” ‘Let’s say you’re trying to teach people how engines work. A traditional approach would be to give you courses on screwdrivers and wrenches. A much better way would be, here is an engine, now how are we going to take it apart? Well, you need a screwdriver. And then a very important thing happens, the relevance of the tool becomes apparent.’
Musk’s decision highlights a bigger issue, how we educate people needs to change. Education today really isn’t that much different from what it was a hundred years ago. It’s still classrooms crammed full of students all learning the same thing at the same pace from overworked, underpaid and under-appreciated teachers who spend thirty years teaching more or less the same thing.
Parents should be the most concerned. From the time kids are old enough to start school until they are independent enough to make their own decisions, parents consume themselves worrying about their child’s education. It made sense, after all getting your kids a good education was always thought to be the best thing you could do to assure them a bright future. And parents all around the world go to crazy lengths to do whatever they can to make sure their kids get the education they need. They’ll move houses to be in a better school district, spend thousands of dollars a year on after-school and summer programs, and hire tutors, all to make sure little Jimmy or Sally are prepared to face the world of tomorrow.
However for parents today things have gotten even more complicated. The world that the next generation will grow up in will be radically different from anything we have seen in the past. A world filled with artificial intelligence, genetic engineering, automation, virtual reality, personalized medicine, self-driving cars, and people on Mars. A world where people might not even have jobs and where society itself may be arranged in fundamentally different ways. How are parents, and society for that matter, supposed to know how to prepare them to succeed in a world that we cannot predict?
It starts by rethinking what a school is. Schools used to be the storehouses of human knowledge and going to school was the best way to learn anything. Now that is no longer the case, knowledge is no longer confined to dusty classrooms or old books. Thanks to the internet it is now accessible to anybody who wants it. All schools have to do is get them to want it.
The role of school should no longer be to fill heads with information, rather it should be a place that inspires students to be curious about the world they live in. Kids are born explorers, when they are young all they want to do is push boundaries and explore the limits of what they can do. Let’s not suffocate that curiosity by making them spend their childhoods preparing for one test after another while adhering to rigid school policies that stifle creativity and independent thought.
The ability to adapt and learn something new should be valued above all else. Gone are the days where you pick a profession and just do that one thing for the rest of your life. People will need to know how to learn something new multiple times over in their lives. Not only because it will be the only way you’ll still be able to contribute to society, but also because our knowledge of the world and who we are is progressing incredibly quickly. If the last time you learned anything new was when you were in school then you will be missing out on the new ways of understandings the world that are constantly opening up.
And this is not just something that we have to worry about for the younger generation, adults will also need to be re-educated as most of the skills they acquired in school will soon be obsolete.
All active learning should be task driven. No more lessons where you jot down notes off a blackboard, rather students are assigned tasks to complete and given all the tools they might need to figure out how to solve the problem. (3d printers, virtual learning environments, interactive displays, a connection to labs and research facilities all around the world, etc.)
Passive learning should not be rigidly structured. Students should be given a topic to learn about and a variety of educational materials to pick from to help them learn, it should then be up to them which they want to use. (podcasts, videos, books, virtual tours, etc.)
Teachers become facilitators of learning. Rather than lecturing everyone, they go from student to student or group to group helping them figure out how to learn what they need to know. Teachers no longer need a deep understanding of the given topic but they should know how to learn about it. Students eventually should also be supplied with their own virtual learning assistant to answer any question they may have and help them stay on task.
Classrooms themselves will need to be redesigned. No more square boxes with rows of desks, the classrooms of the future should be innovative spaces that promote curiosity while fostering creative social interaction with peers.
The goal of education should never be to get an A or pass a test. Making students and parents obsess about grades and scores sucks away all the joy of learning. The goal should be to make students literate in all core subjects and fluent at a select few. Being able to do something that you couldn’t do before or finding a new way of understanding the world is far more rewarding than any score on a piece of paper ever could be.
In addition, education should give people an understanding that the world is not divided up into discreet subjects. Separating knowledge into columns labeled science or history or Chinese is at times pedagogically useful but everyone should realize that the world is not made up of independent subjects, they bleed into each other and none can be fully understood in isolation. Subjects are simply tools to help you understand the world.
Students should also know that no subject is beyond them. We are told lies that some people just can’t do math or can’t draw. Other subjects like physics are presented to us as too dry or too complex for most people to grasp. What should be taught is that a certain level of literacy in any subject is not only attainable by everybody but is necessary to be able to appreciate the world we live in.
Much of this may seem idealistic or unrealistic, but radical change is needed if we are going to figure out how to live in the future we are creating.
“Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” – William Butler Yeats
A British school student recently contacted NASA to point out that there was an error in data recorded on the International Space Station (ISS), earning him thanks from the US space agency.
Miles Soloman, a 17-year-old student from Tapton School in Sheffield, was working on the TimPix project, which lets school students in the UK access data recorded by radiation detectors during British astronaut Tim Peake’s six-month stay on the ISS.
Amongst other projects, Peake participated in a research program that aims to understand the impact of space radiation on humans. Radiation on the ISS is monitored with USB-shaped Timepix detectors, which are plugged into computers and regularly send data back to Earth.
Soloman and his fellow students were given these Timepix measurements in a giant pile of Excel spreadsheets, allowing them to practice data analysis on real-world scientific information.
When they sorted the data by energy levels, Soloman noticed something odd.
“I went straight to the bottom of the list, and went to the lowest bits of energy there were,” he told BBC Radio 4’s World at One current affairs program.
“I noticed that where we should have no energy, where there was no radiation, it was actually showing -1. The first thing I thought was ‘Well you can’t have negative energy,’ and then we realised that this was an error.”
Soloman and his physics teacher James O’Neill jumped into action and emailed NASA straight away.
As Soloman explained to BBC Radio, researchers at NASA responded that they were aware of the error, but thought it had only been happening once or twice a year. They were wrong.
“What we actually found was that they were happening multiple times a day,” says Soloman.
“They thought they had corrected for this,” said physicist Lawrence Pinsky from the University of Houston, who is involved with the TimPix project, and is a collaborator of the radiation monitoring project on ISS.
“The problem is that some of the algorithms which converted the raw data were slightly off, and therefore when they did the conversion, they wound up with a negative number.”
Prompted by BBC’s World at One host Martha Kearney on whether such a revelation by a schoolboy was embarrassing, Pinsky answered that he didn’t think so.
“It was appreciated more so than being embarrassing,” he said. “The idea that students get involved at a real level means that there’s an opportunity for them to find things like this.”
The TimPix project is one of many initiatives organized by IRIS (the Institute for Research in Schools), a UK-based charitable trust that gives students and teachers opportunities to do actual scientific research at school.
IRIS has partnered with organizations such as CERN, NASA, Wellcome Trust, and the UK Royal Horticultural Society to bring real science projects into the classroom and get kids excited about pursuing careers in science.
“We’re also tapping into the potential of young minds and what they can do,” said Soloman’s teacher O’Neill. “As far as I’m concerned, the greatest research group we can form is our students around the country.”
At least for Miles Soloman, IRIS has definitely given him inspiration to pursue more science, although he hastens to explain that he wasn’t trying to outsmart NASA researchers when he pointed out the data error.
“I’m not trying to prove NASA wrong, I’m not trying to say I’m better, because obviously I’m not – they’re NASA,” he said. “I want to work with them and learn from them.”
Today, those looking for a non-traditional education have limited access to online classrooms, especially ones that are for-credit and affordable. But Thomas Frey predicts that, within 14 years, learning from robots will be entirely commonplace — even for children.
Frey is a futurist who began as an engineer at IBM and went on to found the DaVinci Institute, a networking firm and think tank for technical innovation to bring about a brighter future. Frey gives lectures and interviews on strategies for progress to high-profile audiences at places like NASA, the New York Times, and various Fortune 500 companies. He told Business Insider that he sees a future where innovators will enhance and improve the current landscape of online education.
“I’ve been predicting that by 2030 the largest company on the internet is going to be an education-based company that we haven’t heard of yet,” Frey said in the interview.
Frey claims that, in order for students to learn through an advanced online course, we must construct an educational program that learns its students’ individual proclivities and preferred learning strategies.
“It learns what your interests are, your reference points” Frey said. “And it figures out how to teach you in a faster and faster way over time.”
Regardless of the effectiveness of online learning platforms, there is still an inherent societal distrust of robots, especially within sectors like education. In fact, in a recent survey by the European Commission, it was found that 30 to 34 percent of people thought that robots should be entirely banned from education. But Frey doesn’t go so far as to argue education bots will replace traditional schooling outright. Also, as technology progresses, it is possible that these fears and opinions will change.
If Frey is correct about the future of online education, it could propel many to levels of education they could not otherwise achieve. Students around the world have limited access to public education, quality one-on-one help from a teacher, and advancement beyond their assigned grade or classes. However, many of these students are gaining access to computers and the internet. A vastly improved online education system could provide the opportunity and resources underprivileged students need to fulfill their educational aspirations.
So, while robot teachers might sound a little scary for some, they could allow for more affordable and accessible education around the world. No longer would students have to live in districts with certain levels of wealth just to receive decent education. No longer would students be constantly overwhelmed or, conversely, bored by lessons that advance too quickly or too slowly. Perhaps, instead of taking our children’s jobs, robots could prepare them for a career they would love.
Amid heated discussions of employee displacement due to automation and outsourcing, the fact that employers of traditionally low-skill jobs are now placing a premium on college degrees is getting overshadowed.
“In our factories, there’s a computer about every 20 or 30 feet,” Eric Spiegel, former president and chief executive of Siemens USA, told the New York Times. “People on the plant floor need to be much more skilled than they were in the past. There are no jobs for high school graduates at Siemens today.” The same goes for John Deere dealerships, where employees are often tasked with fixing tractors and harvesters. The traditional toolbox has been replaced by a computer that requires advanced math, comprehension, and problem-solving skills to operate.
As more companies incorporated various technologies into their business models over the years, the need for employees with more sophisticated skills and credentials increased. Now, not only have the jobs themselves evolved, but many companies are using a lack of a bachelor’s degree as a simple way to weed out less-desirable candidates. This means that a lot of factory-floor jobs aren’t going to be open to people without a college diploma, even if those people would be otherwise qualified for them.
Pursuing some form of post-secondary education is an obvious route for many, but only 44 percent of high school graduates enroll in a four-year program right after school, and fewer than half of those students will finish their degrees in four years’ time. Traditionally, two-year programs and community colleges have been used to bridge the skills gap, but they often end with students getting some kind of generic training or degree that still falls short of employers’ expectations.
Competing with Automation
Rapid changes in our technological landscape are demanding more from human workers because machines are now capable of delivering more, and contrary to what President Trump has said throughout his campaign and into his presidency, members of the working class aren’t losing most of their jobs to offshoring and globalization. In fact, a Ball State University study has concluded that almost nine out of 10 jobs have been lost to automation since 2000.
As automated systems continue to improve, this disconnect between the number of workers and the number of jobs they are qualified to fill is only going to grow. The job market in the age of automation is going to get even more competitive, so we need to find better ways to bridge the gap and put more people to work.
For employers, bachelor degrees are considered a validation of an applicant’s skill set and propensity to do well in a job. To some degree, they could be right, but experience gained through apprenticeship programs or on-the-job training is also a good way to assess potential. Those options are also a great way for young people to avoid costly student loans or the nerve-wracking process of hunting for a job after graduation. “Apprenticeships can start with a job and end with a Ph.D.,” said Noel Ginsburg, president and founder of Intertech Plastics in Denver.
Though it may be an easy way to cut down on the number of applicants for a job, a degree shouldn’t be the only thing employers look for in potential employees. Ultimately, we need to find other ways of judging an applicant’s past performance and suitability for the workplace. Pushing for education is important, but in this era of rapid technological advancement, it has to be combined with human adaptability and initiative, two skills that might prove to be the most valuable characteristics an employee can bring to the job site.
The study of genetics has given us essential information about the human body, how it’s wired, and how it has evolved over the years. Genomics, a branch of genetics that deals with the sequencing and analysis of the genome of an organism, has been particularly useful, especially in furthering our understanding of diseases. It turns out, it can also be useful in determining just how smart we could be, according to a groundbreaking study published in the online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
In the study, scientists at deCODE Genetics explored how human genetic propensity for education has evolved over the years. Using several decades of genomic and genealogical data from a huge population selection in Iceland, the researchers discovered that individuals that carry a specific genetic variation linked to higher levels of education have fewer children compared to most people. This has resulted in a significant decline in these genetic variations over the years. Essentially, the human genome sequence variations correlated with more education are becoming rarer in the population today.
The scientists were able to arrive at this conclusion by having access to deCODE’s unique and extensive genetics resources. This allowed them to review and analyze the change of the genetic propensity for education in 129,808 Icelanders. They covered data from 1910 to 1990 and came up with a polygenic score for propensity to educational attainment (POLYedu), which is a weighted average of about 620,000 variations in the genome’s sequence.
Genes and Society
In the evolutionary sense, this genetic propensity for education is under negative selection. “These findings are an example of how we can use genomics to shed light on the evolutionary causes and consequences of observed social trends in modern human society,” according to one of the authors of the study, Kari Stefansson, who is also the CEO of deCODE. “As a species, we are defined by the power of our brains. Education is the training and refining of our mental capacities. Thus, it is fascinating to find that genetic factors linked to more time spent in education are becoming rarer in the gene pool.”
What’s even more interesting is the fact that this genetic variation decline happened during a time when educational levels were supposedly increasing. According to Stefansson:
In spite of the negative selection against these sequence variations, education levels have been increasing for decades. Indeed, we control the environment in which these genetic factors play out: the education system. If we continue to improve the availability and quality of educational opportunities, we will presumably continue to improve the educational level of society as a whole. Time will tell whether the decline of the genetic propensity for education will have a notable impact on human society.
Indeed, despite the fact that our genes are well embedded inside of us, what happens on the outside can affect how they change over time. That’s what, essentially, evolution is. It’s how we adapt to our environment. Hopefully, a better education system can reverse this downward genetic trend. Perhaps a curriculum based on genetics and an individual’s DNA can be the key? Only research and time will tell.
Something that becomes very clear to teachers as they spend time in classrooms is that different students have different learning styles, either by preference or by training. Educators know that some learn better through group work, while others thrive during individual assignments, and while one student may enjoy learning by doing, another may prefer reading about a subject.
Research has shown that learning styles can be hardwired into an individual, bringing up the need for us to explore educational genomics, a relatively new field that’s quickly expanding due to advances in genetics and technology. It involves identifying and analyzing the contribution of DNA variants to traits related to education, such as memory, reaction time, learning ability, and academic achievement.
“One day, genomics could enable educational organizations to create tailor-made curriculum programs based on a pupil’s DNA profile,” says Gaysina. Such genetic information could be used to identify which DNA variants facilitate school achievement, like reading and mathematical abilities, she argues.
That would make it possible to predict if a student could be gifted in art or in mathematics, and then those predispositions could be nurtured in the classroom through a more personalized approach. We would need to make sure that these predictions aren’t treated as gospel, though, potentially preventing students from exploring subjects they may not be hardwired to excel at through genetics.
Gaysina also acknowledges that the development of a gene depends on its host’s environment. “Educational genomics aims to uncover this complex relationship – to look at how the genome works in different environments,” she writes. “This information will then help researchers to understand how this interplay affects brain and behavior across the life of a person.”
Educational genomics may be the key to better, more personalized education in the future, a style of teaching that doesn’t penalize students for not fitting into the prescribed educational mold. According to Gaysina, “Educational genomics could enable schools to accommodate a variety of different learning styles – both well-worn and modern – suited to the individual needs of the learner.”