As an educator I am fascinated by the way that learning will be re-shaped over the coming decades. Here are some of the far-reaching questions debated at Davos this year and the experiments discussed.
- Shouldn’t craft-based apprenticeship be encouraged?
Historically the returns to higher education have been significant: Graduates have earned more than non-graduates. But as more executives are bemoaning the lack of job-related skills in graduates, will this trend persist? Or, should apprentice learning be encouraged, particularly at a time when artisanal endeavours could well be a growing sector of the workforce?
During the industrial revolution the craft-based apprenticeship systems in many countries were destroyed. Is it now time to re-invigorate this system of creating opportunities for young people to learn a craft in a working environment? And if they are to be re-created, what form could they take? What role could public/private partnerships play? Alain Dehaze, CEO of Adecco Group, Switzerland, talked of how he is chairing a global coalition to bring together the many stakeholders involved in this. My own view is that apprenticeship learning will be one of the most significant growth areas in the coming years.
- What will be the valuable skills of the future?
This is not a new question, but embedded within it are three broad issues each of which will become ever more curial. The first issue is, what are the valuable skills that can be augmented by AI and machine learning?
In the debate about AI and machine learning it is becoming clear that ‘soft skills’ – curiosity, empathy, compassion, collaboration - will become crucial. But what is less clear is the learning infrastructure that supports and encourages these skills. The CEO of Lockheed Martin, Marillyn Hewson, described how in an industry focused on technical skills they have created a package for ‘soft skill’ development that is being rapidly rolled out into schools and colleges.
Second, what is the best balance between science and liberal arts, and specialist and generalist? An Asian delegate remarked to me that just at the time when the West has decided that STEM subjects are more important than liberal arts, Asia - where STEM skills have always been highly valued – is questioning whether liberal arts should now become more central to the curriculum. And there is more: should people specialise deeply in one subject or should they have a foundation of general knowledge? I think fundamentally these are questions of balance and context and they will continue to be debated as education and industry tries to create an equilibrium.
Third, how can entrepreneurial skills be encouraged? There is no doubt that the issue of entrepreneurship will become more crucial as the creation of small businesses and the support of individual producers becomes the powerhouse of employment in countries with historically high youth unemployment. What does it take to support someone in building their own business – financial acumen, alliance building skills, perhaps even network augmentation?
- How will life-long learning be achieved?
From my own research on the implications of the 100-year life what becomes clear is that to continue to be productive into our 80s we will all have to up-skill, re-skill and re-learn. That means being prepared to invest in learning whilst we are at work, or using weekends and holidays to learn, or taking dedicated time out. This has fundamental implications many of which are positive – it will break the ‘age segmentation’ which is so much an aspect of current education; it will encourage partnerships between educators and corporations as they attempt to shape life-long learning environments; and it will provide opportunities for people to re-shape their potential throughout their life.
- Shouldn’t education institutions use outcomes as a measure of success?
There are those, like Clayton Christensen of Harvard Business School who argue that education is ripe for innovation and disintermediation. Whilst traditional education has certainly changed little over the last century, the forces of change are gathering: there is growing evidence of the skills gap between the needs of the workplace and the skills of graduating students; traditional education is seen as elitist and simply serving to reinforce the status quo. And as the Deputy Prime Minister of Singapore Tharman Shanmugaratnam remarked, there is concern that this is an industry untouched by the need to measure outcomes and performance. It seems inevitable that over the coming years these forces will result in a profound reevaluation of learning and education.