Education is changing faster than ever, with new ideas, technologies and demands constantly emerging. As Artificial Intelligence continues to automate aspects and functions of various jobs, or even eliminate traditional roles altogether, different subjects and skills will be in demand or even become essential in the performance of future jobs.
Identifying what these are and making them accessible to students - regardless of their social and economic background or geographical location - is a monumental challenge that can only be overcome by making full use of technology.
Creative skills for a digital economy
The digital economy will create more roles that require a combination of technical, interpersonal and creative skills, and building the foundation for this begins with studying a very broad range of subjects in school.
The argument for broadening the scope of what merits inclusion in the curriculum is simple yet compelling; nowadays most of us have access to the world's knowledge via the supercomputers - i.e. smartphones - that we carry around in our pockets, yet these mountains of data are not valuable in isolation. It is the ability to creatively and proactively extract actionable insights from data - and to execute effectively on these - that will become invaluable in the digital economy jobs being created now, and for those which will be created in future.
"Breadth of understanding is often as important as depth of knowledge. Business leaders, innovators and entrepreneurs now need fluency in a broad range of subjects, and these go far beyond what has traditionally been taught at school and universities," says John Ingram, CEO of Pamoja Education.
In order to thrive in the digital age, he argues that workers must equip themselves with a range of modular skills including areas such as coding and engineering, all the way through to language skills, sales, networking, marketing, design, and even social media influencing. This is effectively the only approach which makes sense in a world where project-based work will become ever more prevalent, and clearly delineated job titles are likely to be eliminated altogether. Fluid and flexible skillsets, coupled with an equally elastic approach, will be essential for the professional survival kit of professionals entering the workforce in the next few decades.
Tackling the opportunity gap
Paradoxically, however - even though creative skills are an essential part of building the next generation's professional profile - arts and creative subjects seem to be on the decline. A Recent Edge Foundation report found that in the last decade GCSE entries in creative subjects have fallen by 20%. This might be due to the additional budgetary and logistics pressures faced by schools in countries like the United Kingdom, where teacher numbers are dwindling. Schools faced with difficult choices often have to prioritize their resources, and the number and quality of specialist subjects on offer is often the first casualty. Yet Ingram believes that this is an area where technology can play an important role, helping to bridge the gap between limited resources on the one hand, and greater learning demands on the other:
"There's no substitute for classroom teaching, but while schools struggle to find the staff to teach a full range of subjects, we should be exploring the technologies that can allow students to take courses they'd otherwise have to miss out on. Even when schools are well resourced and offer a good range of subjects, there are still often more niche subjects such as Film Studies they cannot cover which could otherwise allow students to follow their passions, stretch themselves, and grow as individuals," Ingram explains.
So even though most education experts agree that face-to-face teaching cannot - and should not - be altogether replaced by tech-based alternatives, it is literally impossible to square the that circle without integrating technology into long-term strategies for delivering learning outcomes. In practice this means that while it isn't feasible for schools to maintain the capacity on site to deliver every niche subject that students might want to study, they will now be able to do so.
Making teaching resources go further with technology
"Having offered IB courses online to schools across the world for over a decade, we've found that online learning can broaden pupils' digital and collaborative skills, encouraging them to carry out research, co-ordinate group work and discuss material in an online community," continues Ingram.
Indeed, research has shown that these features benefit students' wider education by encouraging them to take ownership of their learning process, helping prepare them for their university careers where they'll need to study independently. That proactive mind-set then ideally carries through to the approach that those pupils will adopt in the workplace, collating and leveraging information towards accomplishing strategic tasks, projects and goals.
At its heart, education is about opportunity, and online learning can potentially make crucial opportunities available to those who would not normally have access to them. This is why it's crucial that educators see technology not as a threat, but as a tool for enhancing their own pedagogical capacity.
The next few years will mark an exponential disruptive shift towards automation, and that will present a threat to new and existing professionals across a wide range of industries. Yet if we equip our young people with modular skills by enabling them to pursue a broad range of creative interests from early schooling onwards, we will maximize their chances of not only weathering this inevitable disruption, but of thriving in it.