Wednesday, June 11, 2014

EduTECH theme #1 - Changing Education Paradigms - Ian Jukes

Most of the keynote speakers at the EduTECH conference spoke about the theme of the changing workforce and how ill-prepared schools and education systems are for it. How standardised learning; designed to fit schools full of kids that were destined for agriculture, manufacturing, repetitive/menial tasks and automated jobs; doesn't really fit the future world that requires creative thinkers and problem solvers.
The view from the back - Ian Jukes' closing keynote
Ian Jukes was the final keynote speaker, speaking about 'disruptive innovation', and its impact on education. He gave this message passionately and emphatically. Here are some key points:

Jukes spoke of disruptive innovation as the technologies that are (and have been for a long time) changing the world. This includes the massive container ships (that carry 18000 containers filled with manufactured and agricultural goods from China to almost any port in the world within one week); as well as the technologies that allow hundreds of tasks once completed by humans and animals to be performed quicker and cheaper by machines and computers. Think about how this has changed the world, and the workforce. What do all those people do now that once harvested corn, or answered/directed phone calls, or entered data into forms? While the technology is great, and keeps getting better, it is changing the world economy. Now think about the impact that this has on education. This was the big point that Jukes was going to make.

"No generation in history has even been so thoroughly prepared for the industrial age as the current generation."
- David Warlick

In the US, and increasingly in Australia, many of the 'routine cognitive' jobs that schools traditionally prepared students for (think agriculture, customer service, auditing/bookkeeping, manufacturing, data entry) are being outsourced. Because it's a better economic decision for a company to outsource this kind of work to the cheapest (and most reliable) worker. Which by the way is not usually an American or Australian. And sometimes it's not a human at all...
People in location-dependent jobs (hospitality, plumbing, construction, etc) are somewhat of an exception to this massive change in the workforce, though at the same time, they are not on the salary level of a 'white collar' worker that performs these routine cognitive tasks. 

Jukes then talked about the 'creative class' (as outlined in Richard Florida's book), and how they will come to dominate the high-income earning end of the spectrum in first-world countries in the near future. These are the people that experiment, analyse, disrupt, and well...create!

We kinda know this stuff, don't we? But here's an interesting example: Jukes spoke about the booming app economy. In 2008, the app industry didn't exist. Mainly because apps (or the devices that use them) didn't exist either. But since then, the app industry has boomed, creating/providing more than 800000 jobs across the world. Think about how many industries have shed jobs in that time. 
We are only just starting to do 'app development' in schools. But at a more basic level, it's not a priority of education systems to teach the skills that people that go into these industries might need: creativity, problem solving, coding (a controversial issue in itself), entrepreneurship, collaboration, the willingness to fail and try again, and the ability to respond to constructive feedback. 
So I wonder, what might the workforce look like in another 6 years? What jobs will disappear all together? 

"If the rate of change on the outside exceeds the rate of change on the inside, the end is near."
- Jack Welch

So Jukes asked how we are changing our schools to fit this new model of work. Are we changing it? He argued that to stay competitive in this kind of environment, different skills are predicted to be important in the coming years: skills such as creativity, critical thinking, teamwork, problem solving and interpersonal skills. He argues that "the world doesn't care what you know, only what you do with what you know", and that memorisation of facts is not important at all. I agree with this. After all, we've got Google to do that for us...

He reiterated the point that our schools were designed to educate people for a world that existed a long time ago. He says that 85% of time in schools is devoted to 'routine cognitive work' - the kind of work that will be outsourced in the future! If we keep trying to force everyone into the same 'box', and test them for the same outcomes, then we might miss the chance to nurture creativity, and we'll definitely miss the opportunity to teach those 'creative class' skills. There's something to the story of the 'school dropout' who makes it big. Jukes made a good point about that too: the rate that students drop out (10-15% in secondary school, up to 50% in universities) should be unacceptable. He said that if he ran a business with this rate of disengagement, he'd be out of business, so why is it acceptable in schools? Perhaps it's because kids don't see the point of being in schools. If they don't have plans to do routine cognitive work (and really, who does?), then how is school meaningful to them?

I think we know this. Instinctively as good teachers, I think all of us know this. But sadly, the kinds of people that makes the decisions about education don't seem to. So Ian Jukes challenges us to change this. One lesson at a time. One unit of work at a time. One school at a time. Make it something that cannot be ignored. Show them that it can work. to do things differently. 

What do you think?

You can see a similar keynote (sadly without the slides, but with all the passion) here. You can also see more of his work here:

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