Tuesday, June 16, 2015

"Highly Educated Useless People"

The Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) have released a report that predicts big changes for the Australian workforce. Much of it deals with the impact of automation, emerging technologies and increased computing power (and affordability).

For those of us that work in the field of educational technology, this is not a new idea. Many of the smartest people I know have talked about this for years. I posted last year about Ian Jukes' keynote at the EduTech conference, where he talked about this very thing. Yong Zhao also has some great insights to offer about entrepreneurship and the need for change.

In their 2011 book, "Literacy is Not Enough: 21st Century Fluencies for the Digital Age", Andrew Churches, Lee Crockett and Ian Jukes talk about 'Highly Educated, Useless People', attributed to the minister for education in a 'high-profile' (but unnamed) country. These are the people that pass all their tests and do well at school and then graduate with no useful, real-world skills at all.

To me, this idea highlights one of main problems in education currently. When we focus on facts, testing and a one-size-fits-all approach, we are certainly producing the kind of people that would be good in factories or typing pools...
One of the Typing Pools by Scottish Government Under CC BY-NC 
...but not the kind of people that are going to be able to keep learning, be flexible,  create their own solutions, create employment opportunities, and create new ideas and industries (notice the key word here?). As highlighted in the CEDA report, these are the kinds of skills that people are going to need to be able to overcome the challenges presented by an automated, computerised workforce.

If the world is starting to realise the importance of innovation and creativity for a changed workforce, when will the education sector do the same? And what's the change that is necessary? What do we teach? What can we let go? I believe that we don't really need to teach facts and figures any more, Google's got that covered. But surely all people need at least some basic literacy and numeracy knowledge. And they need to know something about technology, given that it will be their direct competition in the workforce. But how much is essential content? Is there essential content? The CEDA report emphasises the need for schools to ensure they are "...instilling competencies rather than the retention of specific knowledge." (page 15).  Is this the right approach?

Or is it more about how we teach? Can we look at a more personalised approach that (alongside those 'essential skills') allows students to pursue areas of study that they are interested in? This will involve huge changes in teaching, school structure and policy; but if the information in the report is correct, these changes are absolutely necessary.

Robots by Justin Morgan Under CC BY SA 2.0
I'm aware that I'm a little broken-recordy in this, but I truly feel that we are doing students a disservice pushing them through a school system that is designed for another age. So this is my call to arms. If you're a teacher, you can change from within (I talked about that already). If you're not, make some noise. Because surely you don't want your children (or I guess we're looking at grandchildren now) to be useless people?

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