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“Wisdom, rather than knowledge, is the scarce commodity”

Last updated:
6th December 2019

Preparing young people for the world of work looks very different today from how it did in the past, argues Dave Coplin and AI can help schools rise to the challenge…

We urgently need to realise that the world we inhabit requires very different skills from those we have deemed so important for hundreds of years.

Today, experts argue that 80% of the maths we teach our kids is irrelevant. Of course we need to know the basics of arithmetic, but we don’t need to be able to do complicated long division sums in our heads because, like it or not, we will always have access to calculators that will go further and faster with numbers than we ever could alone.

Equally important will be the distinction between knowing facts and knowing what to do with them. We no longer need students to be able to retain endless facts about any given subject, instead we desperately need to make sure that students are able to process the infinite amount of information they all have access to, and be able to use it to construct a positive, sensible outcome. This is a world where wisdom, rather than knowledge is the scarce commodity.

When my son gets his first job in pretty much any vocation, he will be expected to be self-motivated, to work well with others, to be curious and most definitely to think outside the box. He already has access to every fact (and opinion) our society has ever generated and has in the palm of his hands a calculator of almost infinite power – and he will be expected to wield both skills with confidence in order to help him offer value and be valued by the future society of which he is a member.

Connecting the dots

Can you imagine what might happen if we suddenly decided to ban the use of mobile devices in the office? Or if we took all the computers and laptops away and put them in a separate part of our office buildings, only to be used while in that specific location? A few luddites might be pleased but for the most part, the world would stop spinning and we workers would revolt.

Given that school is supposed to be the vehicle through which we prepare younger generations to be able to take up their place in both the world of work and more broadly in society as a whole, I think by restricting their access to technology in the classroom we are derelict in our duty to help them prepare for and to be fit for purpose for the world that they will actually inherit.

But we can’t think about this in isolation. It’s not as simple as enabling a BYOD policy or even (god forbid) allowing smart phones in lessons. The only way forward is for us to come together to ensure we can connect the dots between the skills we give our young people and the jobs, vocations and careers they will ultimately inhabit.

Quicker, cheaper, more powerful

As for technology itself, it’s going to continue to get quicker, cheaper, more powerful and smaller. Your huge smartphone may not be so huge by the time we get to 2030, in fact it may not be a phone at all but instead a small implant that you have inserted under your skin, just like the one we use today for our pets…

It will be up to all of us to help the education system make these changes to ensure we are helping people to be fit for purpose in the future that they will actually inherit, rather than a world that no longer exists.

To get there we need to teach our kids (and ourselves!) to break free of the technology that traps and disconnects us, and instead use the same technology to elevate what we could achieve not by replacing us, but by freeing us to do all of the amazing things that technology alone cannot do. The best future awaits those who can combine the best of technological capability with the best of human ability.

Dave Coplin is former Chief Envisioning Officer for Microsoft UK, author of two books, and has worked all over the world with organisations, individuals and governments all with the goal of demystifying technology and championing it as a positive transformation in our society.

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