Visiting this year’s BETT show made me realise how different being in education is now. From hearing about Southbank University’s chatbot, which allows students to ask what’s next on their timetable or when their next assignment is due, to Century Tech’s intelligent innovation tool that uses AI to help teachers to identify students’ learning gaps – BETT is an event where technology and education intersect.
But I’m most interested in understanding how our skills need to develop in the face of all this new technology, at what age developing new skills becomes important and how can we evolve them to ensure they remain valuable and relevant in the future. We hear scary statistics, like that 1.5 million people in England are at high risk of losing their jobs to automation and that 50% of jobs could be automated, but do young people really understand what this means? How should they be taught the right skills to avoid job displacement, and at what age should that happen?
At BETT I listened to Esben Stark, President of Lego Education, talk about whether we’re ready for the AI revolution and why developing confidence in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics) is so important. Esben argued that students need to be future-proof and understand that the growth of automation means potential job displacement and that job categories as we currently know them will change by the time they start work. They need to learn new skills on a continuous basis, and potentially reinvent themselves many times. This means having the confidence to be equipped to be a lifelong learner with a growth mindset, something that can start at a very early age.
This made me think about what I wanted to be when I grew up, and what I thought about future jobs back then. I remember as a teenager that I was very clear that I wanted to go to university and had a vague dream that I wanted to work in an office and eventually own or lead a business, but I wasn’t any more specific about what I would actually do. My Dad worked in PR so this seemed a natural route to go down. I certainly didn’t think about my skills and what I might need to achieve my dream – beyond doing work experience at local PR agencies. I knew it was a dynamic industry with lots of jobs. Plus, I believed it had a future, even with the demise of traditional media.
Esben referenced a recent global OECD Pisa report that shows more teenagers are aspiring for traditional roles such as police officers and lawyers, despite growth in more modern digital roles – like mobile app developer or cyber security expert – over the last 20 years. I realise I’m biased because I work in tech PR and am therefore very aware of these ‘newer’ jobs, but surely young people are too, having grown up with the internet? Perhaps the focus on traditional roles is based on their upbringing and role models in popular culture. But young people still need to think about their current and future skillset and can’t afford to assume that those traditional roles will stay the same, as they will likely dramatically change over the next 10 years.
Esben’s main point was that young people need to build their confidence in STEAM and quoted that 47% of students avoided these subjects if they failed once before. There’s no denying that STEAM subjects such as maths and engineering are hard work and require lots of effort over a long period of time. He was inferring that young people shouldn’t be afraid to fail – and indeed should be encouraged to fail – as those who are confident in STEAM are more likely to be confident throughout school.
His recommendation was to make learning in STEAM more hands-on and with an element of play, so that young people can understand the more practical elements of each subject and have fun at the same time. Giving young people practical problems to solve – such as directing water through a maze of pipes to make as much come out as clean as possible – encourages them to ask their own questions and think more creatively. And if it is made relevant to real-life societal challenges, such as climate change, it will encourage them to think about the world around them and how it will continue to work in the future. Only this way of thinking and behaving will help to create a growth mindset and instil a real thirst for lifelong learning.