Robot dentists, Rocket club, and more. In this episode we’re thinking about the future - ‘Great Scott!’ What will the future look like in terms of jobs and automation? Are kids losing their drive and curiosity for things? Plus, Andy questions if we are forgetting what it means to be a human…
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Hi, I'm Andy Psarianos.
Hi, I'm Robin Potter.
Hi, I'm Adam Gifford.
This is the School of School podcast.
Welcome to the School of School podcast.
So welcome back to another episode of the School of School podcast. I'm with my two favourite podcasters, at least on this podcast. Adam and Andy. Hello.
You're such a charmer, robin. Yeah, hi, how are you?
I'm great. Thank you. Yes, I'm feeling good. So a little insight for our listeners. We were just discussing before we started recording about how we can prepare students for the future, and there was a whole number of things that came up. So I'm just going to bring it back to the main point here, which is, how can we prepare our students for the future? I don't know who would like to start off the conversation, but I have a feeling that Adam is ready to roll. So go for it, Adam.
Listen, I'll put my cards on the table. I don't know. It's tricky. It's a really hard one. How do we prepare people for the future? But I suppose what we're going to try to do is predict that trajectory from where we've been to where we're going and what we can see happening today.
I remember seeing a study of jobs that were, I think it was Oxford University that did the study and they were looking at the future-proofing of jobs. This was in the context of jobs, sorry, that would be redundant in the future that'd be done by machines of some description. I remember the context that I've talked about that a lot is that mathematicians was a job, being a mathematician was a job that was future-proofed, which surprised a lot of people because I think a lot of people assume that mathematicians sit around with calculators and do big calculations all day, which isn't really the role of a mathematician.
But off the back of that, it's thinking, all right, some of these jobs that have gone by the wayside. So insurance actuaries who used to do big calculations to try and calculate and just part of the job might've been calculating risk, where those jobs can now be done by machine, by computer. So those people who are in that role no longer can have it, or they have to adapt to do that. So I suppose it's looking at that trajectory going forward and thinking about, okay, the world is constantly changing. It has done forever. What we need from our workers needs to change. So the children that we have in our care, what do we need to do for them?
I think that one of the things that I keep coming back to time and time to gain is problem solving, being able to adapt in situations that are completely unknown, in a world that is changing so rapidly. With information being, we are bombarded by information, I would assume a whole lot more than previous generations. Whether that information's valid or not, that's another story. Whether it's rich and worthwhile or not, another story, but we need a different set of skills to negotiate and interpret the world in a way that's productive and meaningful.
So I guess at the crux of it, I'm going to ask a question off the back of your question is, so what do those skills look like? How do we manage to get children to a place where they're ready for that? Where they're ready to be sophisticated enough to interpret information and to use it to the world and to the community's advantage, be it economically, environmentally, culturally. How do we ensure that we are doing our best to support them do that? So I've not answered your question at all. I've rambled on about expanding the same question.
We never ramble on this podcast.
That never happens. Maybe you guys, maybe you guys do sometimes.
Well I best have a good ramble now. Well, yeah, I've rambled away there.
Okay, Andy, solve all the problems.
So you answered both of our questions, Andy.
Yes. Come on.
Adam, thank you for rambling because it gave me a chance to think about what I was going to say. I think what's going to happen, so if we look back as the evolution in the last several hundred years of the human population. We've gone from I suppose, the majority of people spending most of their time doing sustenance farming, just doing what they have to do to survive, make food and shelter. That was, if you go back, I don't know, 500 years, that's almost probably more than 95% of the population just did that every day and they were just scraping by.
Then in this, we went through this mechanisation period where we started mechanising processes and mass production and all this kind of stuff developed. We taught people how to become machines, like how to work on an assembly line, how to assemble things, how to make things. That's been the large part of preparing the population and really where school came from was getting people to become those things, those machines.
But now we're getting into a world where mechanisation is being overtaken by automation. So robots are putting things together in assembly lines, not people. We're getting to a point where digital computer stuff is taking a lot of the, call it processing, mechanical processing kind of stuff like calculation. Nobody sits there and adds large columns of numbers and nobody does that, right? Your phone does that, or it's just spreadsheets and whatever. It's just not a thing that people do anymore.
What we're forgetting about is getting back in touch with our humanity. What does it mean to be a human being where your job isn't taken up by keeping yourself alive all day? Because a lot of people seem to be suffering with emotional problems because they have a lack of purpose or they're bored or often you hear about really, really, wealthy people are incredibly isolated and bored. That could be our future where if in a world where most jobs are mechanised and automated, what does it mean to be a human being if you don't have to get up and work hard all day long? I think that's what we need to prepare people for. This creativity in sports and community and all those things, I don't think we do nearly enough of that in school. I think that's get back in the forest and go out and just go for a walk and understand what these things are and what does it mean to be a human being? We're so fortunate just to be alive. Every single one of us has won the lottery a billion times in a row just to be here, right? What does that mean? Are you taking advantage of it? Are we all just going to, I'm worried that we're all going to end up being isolated and depressed in the future.
I hope that's not the case.
I hope that's not the case.
I hope so too, but-
I know what you're saying.
It seems like that's almost inevitable where we are right now. People are going to become irrelevant.
Because of technology.
Well, because we're teaching them to be things. Just simple things like, you've got how many university grads working as waiters and waitresses and doing... Because there's just, I'm not saying you shouldn't be going to university, but the whole reason we talk to people. Why are you going to university? They think they're going to university to get a good job. Yeah, it's not going to work, right? The odds are against you now. There's just too many people coming out of university. There aren't enough good jobs for them. How about you go to university to learn how to be a better human being? Why don't we just switch the emphasis away from production and efficiency and more into, what does it mean to be alive? What does it mean to be a human being? You know what? it's the greatest gift that any of us have, right?
Mathematics, if we're talking about mathematics, well, what's the point of learning math? Because it's beautiful and because it's how the universe works. That should be good enough reason to learn maths. It doesn't have to be about becoming a programmer or becoming an astronomer. By all means become an astronomer, but do it for the reasons of wonder, not because you're going to get some accolade, like a badge or a pin on your shirt or whatever. That shouldn't be the reason to become an astronomer. The reason to become an astronomer is because you stare out into space and you look at the wonder and you go, man, I'm just so freaking lucky to be here, look at all this wonder. I don't know, maybe that's-
... A bit too philosophical for this podcast, but.
No, it's all valid. You've gone from forest therapy to astronomy. I love it. You've covered the gamut, but it does make me question, what is the purpose then of having our children in school and learning when, like you said, we're getting to the point where it could all be done in their bedroom at home alone, probably to the same degree, but without the interaction of other human beings, which I think would be a very sad thing and certainly not good for your mental health. But how do we... So where's the balance, I guess? How do we balance technology and classroom and continued learning, or at least even wanting to learn? Or, are young people nowadays just going to say, well, it's all going to be automated. I don't need to learn any of this, so I'm not interested? I mean, we want them to be interested. So how do you keep that engagement if we're battling against-
I guess that's what I mean. So the measures that we use, why do you have to do really well in your GCSEs or why you have to do really well in your A levels, or why do you have to do really well in university? If you ask people, it'll often the answer you'll get is, so I can get a good job. But that's a fallacy, it's not going to happen. There's probably lots of unemployed astronomers out there. We don't need that many astronomers. Astronomers don't spend the night looking into telescopes anymore. The telescope runs itself and then the pictures that it takes are analysed by computers. Then if something interesting comes up, it'll be brought to their attention. They don't sit there and stare at the night sky. So maybe we should teach them to stare at the night sky and not because you're going to get paid huge amounts of money if you're better at staring at the night sky than everybody else, just because it's freaking amazing and just enjoy it, and just be part of a community.
What drives people? When you look at most productive, whether it's scientists or artists or whatever, it's just a wonder for the universe, for the world, for what happens. Whether you're a philosopher or you're an astronomer, you use different tools, one's more mathematics and the other one's more thought experiments, but the point is just the wonder of everything around you and understanding it and becoming a functional person in society. I think we don't do enough of that. I think we'd need to because there aren't going to be that many jobs anymore in the future, I really don't think there are going to be a lot of jobs. I think a lot of us are going to be isolated in our houses.
But I think and I agree, I think one of the biggest shifts, and I can say this looking back when I very first began as a teacher and working with teachers who had been teaching for say, 20 years. So you look at that style of teaching for a lot of those teachers, but not all and I'll get to that, that was I hold all the knowledge and I will impart it on you at a rate that I think is just about and it will work for some of you and it won't work for others, and you'll just receive this knowledge and you'll remember it and I'll give you an opportunity to do something with it. They're usually called assessments, tests, exams, and that was the model. Now, your very best teachers developed as a human alongside that because they cared and they were interested and actually the conversation that they were most interested in, or at least this is the perception, was the one that said, what'd you get up to on the weekend? They said, oh man, I was doing this and it was so interesting and it didn't matter what it was.
Because I think if I'm right in understanding Andy, those people who go on to do all sorts of things, they do it because they have almost an inherent love and curiosity of what it is that they're doing. So Einstein, I'm sure wasn't working away on the work that he did just because someone told him, "I think you should be a physicist and you should just do this." There's something that drives that beyond just, this is a functional job, that means I can pay the bills at the end of the week.
I think that's the thing. I think that our role in education, but humanity at large, is shifting away from something that, as you've said, has actually worked for a long time. I'll give you some knowledge. I'll teach you how to tend to the land and you will get crops. I will teach you how to do this and you'll be able to do it. For a long time, that model has worked, but the acceleration in what's happening now, where so many things, we're going to be redundant. We don't need to function in it in order to make something work.
Then, I mean, I used to think it was incredible. I remember as a teenager working in, I helped build the greenhouses for a guy that I knew and the automation to keep the temperature perfect just by simply opening and closing the, I'll call them windows, massive industrial grade. That was really clever because back in the day, that used to be monitored and they'd physically go out and they'd open stuff up. Well, you don't have to do that anymore. You don't have to water them anymore. You don't have to do any of that anymore. So it's like, okay, well, all of these roles that I used to have to do, I don't have to do any of it anymore.
So I think bringing it back to, as a teacher then what does that mean? I think it means that that importance on being curious about stuff and being allowed, valuing that, I think that's hugely important. I think that being able to work with other people and allowing that encouragement of, if I listen to you, Robin, and I listen to you, Andy, and I recognise the stuff that's really important to you and we'll listen and share stuff and allow to follow those lines of curiosity without killing them, then that's massively important. I think it's interesting because it'll be really interesting to see how, because that will be, I'm sure the path that we go down. How will assessment keep in step with that to ensure that that's what we are doing? Because if the assessment is, just regurgitate these facts, unfortunately that's what will happen in the classroom. So how do we get it so we value those things that we know are so important and have been for a while now. I think that that's going to be a real test as to what that looks like. So on mass, people feel that it's okay to do these things.
At the moment where I see it done best is in the early years, learning through play and exploration and the stuff that's being learned in that rich environment. Then you fast forward through to GCSEs where you've heard me say this before, it's something that I wheel out all the time. When my son was told, right, for the rest of the year, what we're going to be doing, this is what math is going to look like, 23 bits of information you're going to have to memorise and then you'll be able to pass and that's what matters.
Why do you have to pass? So that you can get to the next level?
That's the next thing. Then the prize at the end is going to be taken away because you know what? You're going to get your GCSEs then you're get your A levels, maybe you're going to go to university, you're going to study, study, study, study. You're going to learn all this really complicated stuff. You know what? There isn't any job for you at the end because nobody needs... And I'm not saying that we shouldn't learn these things, but we shouldn't learn them out of a fear tactic like, you must learn how to do this otherwise there will not be a job for you, is not, we got to stop telling that story because it's not true anymore. We got to say, you should learn what you want to learn because you love it and you see, and you can become a functional member of society doing something that you love.
You shouldn't just be a dentist because your father were and your mother were dentists and that's the... We might not even need dentists. I could see even things like that will be mechanised and automated at some point. I know it sounds crazy, but it's just going to happen, right? It's just going to happen. Your teeth can be cleaned by a machine, not a person, and that's just the way the world is going. It might not be in the next 20 years, but kids that are in school now are going to experience that.
But I think it's that learning how to learn part. So taking, if you like, the expert out of it. So it's not, well, how do you learn? Will I get told by this person?If that person's not around, I'm in trouble. If that's the perception, and I think it's that you've got to know how to go about learning.
Yeah. Well, that's it though, but the necessity of why we teach people is different. Like if you were a farmer and your children were growing up, you had to teach them how to be farmers for their own survival because you had to pass all this knowledge over to them. Because it's like, hey, when this happens, when this weather event happens here, that means this is happening, so you got to do this, otherwise all your crops will die, is really important survival knowledge stuff. So there was always this, that was the reason for teaching people things, but all this knowledge now is known and it's kept. You don't have to have people remember all the stuff all the time.
I guess my point is the requirements are changing, but what I see happening is people are forgetting what it means to be human and just isolating themselves. It's like, how many people actually go out and have a walk out in nature? I mean, I think it's so important to do that on a regular basis and to learn how to love to do those things and cherish nature, and we don't do enough of that. We need to prepare people for the future they're going to live in, which is going to be, I mean, we'll still need people who need to know calculus. We'll still need economists, but to say to people that we need to run. We don't need have a 100,000 people graduating from school as economists every year. There's not that much work. It's just we don't need it. They're not going to be employed.
So the employment thing is a fallacy, that's over. So let's start thinking about what we actually want people to do. People who want to be economists should become economists out of a love for it, not out of, you need to do this to be a member of society.
That goes to my question about passion. I mean, should we be helping students find their passion? I don't know how we do that because it seems like that's what's going to become more important than just preparing them for a career in something because they think that's what I'm supposed to be doing when it's very possible that they won't be doing that anyway in the future. So why not at least find your passion, be passionate about something and work towards that because it's, I don't know, it sounds like that may be the way to go.
That's a great point, Robin, because we go, we force kids through high school or secondary school, and we tell them, you need to get qualifications. You need to do these courses. So if you're in North America, you should be doing AP this and blah, blah, blah, that and grade 12 calculus and whatever. Then, or in the UK it's like, you need to have so many GCSEs, so many A levels, different labels, but the problem is the same. We're forcing people to go down this path in secondary school, and it's like the whole reason why you need to do grade 12 calculus. You need to do grade 12 calculus so you can get into a science programme or into a business programme, whatever it is. Those are the reasons that you're given for learning grade 12 calculus. Then you go to your grade 12 calculus and then your teacher says by the end of the year, we need to memorise these 23 formulas or whatever. None of those things are compelling.
Then kids come out and they're confused anyway. They don't know, should I go to science or should I go to the arts in university? They have no freaking clue because they're being told, you need to do this, you need to do this, you need to do this. So then it all becomes about, well, which one's going to get you a better job? It's like we're not teaching them to live their lives and appreciate who they are and why they exist and how they can contribute to society. We're not even having those conversations, kills me. It kills me when I hear my kids talk like this. Right? Absolutely destroys me.
I think the difficulty though, Andy, and there's no argument against that for me because it's yeah, that's humanity, right? As I think the difficulty is how the governments like the ones we have in the UK and New Zealand and I'm sure Canada is the same. How do you quantify the success of the money that's put into an education system? Comes the crux of it. How do you measure things like happiness, humanity? This is probably a whole other thing, because that's the difficulty is that we'll tend to find... I say we, I don't mean I'm not talking the collective three here. I'm talking about in systems such as ours. We tend to gravitate back to the things that are easy to quantify. That allows us to a measure of accountability, we need some form of. Accountability and those sorts of things, but that tends to be where the pressure comes most.
You don't hear people saying, I'm really concerned about whether or not I'm helping my children be better human beings. What we would hear though is, I'm really worried about the SATS results this year and what that's going to mean for the school, and we've got off-stead coming and these sorts of things. That I think is coming back to that. How do we manage to get a system where it recognises the importance of humanity?
Yeah, so I think that this is, so if I can twist a little bit what you're trying to say in my interpretation of it. There's a social engineering part that the government's feel that they need to do, which has been driven by policies or political issues over the years.
So go back to the Cold War. There was a real push to drive people into STEM because, well, in the west or in the United States for example, because hey, the Russians are building rockets, they're making bombs. We need more engineers than they have so we can build better rockets and better bombs. Then that starts driving education, and so funding goes into STEM and blah, blah, blah, and it becomes a thing. The governments like to manipulate things that way. So maybe now the drive might be something else. We need a strong economy. What do you need to do to have a strong economy? You need to do X, Y, Z, and they try to engineer those things. My point is that that's a model for the past. It's not even relevant anymore because those problems, you don't need to force people to go to STEM and to have people who know how to build rockets. You just got people who are just interested in making rockets.
My son's part of at university, they have a rocket club, they're making rockets. None of them get any credits for it. There's no guaranteed job at the end. There's no mark. They're just a bunch of people getting together and they managed to interest enough people to give them some money, and they actually build rockets and send them to space, and it's a university club, fun club that they do. There's no reason to do it other than sheer love of the science and the challenge. So you don't need to force people to do these things. There's enough people that will want to do it, and the people who love it are the ones that are going to do it the best. So just get out of the way. Let it happen naturally. But we don't need that many people to build rockets, so just let the people who want to do it do it.
But there's not enough people that are walking in the forest enjoying it and becoming stewards of the forest and advocates for the old trees and reminding people that, Hey, this is actually good for your health, mental health and physical health, to not only notice that there's an environment around you, but actually partake in it, be part of the environment. We don't do any of that, but that's so important in this future world because we're just annihilating and destroying our environment because we're not in touch with it. Go out and put your hands in the soil and freaking plant something. Just do it. Just get kids to do that. Get them in touch with reality with the world around them. Let them discover whether they want to be people who play in the dirt for a living or people who make controlled bombs that go out into space, right? Both are fine.
I'm going to put my hands in the dirt. That's my vote, yeah.
Yeah, and just enjoy it. My kids are afraid of bugs. That freaks me out. They hate insects to a point if they see a spider, they all run away and it's like... I don't know.
Thank you for joining us on the School of School podcast.