I may be a little late, but, happy new school year! I am finally getting into the swing of things. I know both parents and teachers can relate! This year, I am very excited because I am teaching a combined VPK (voluntary Pre K) and Kindergarten class. It’s great to be able to grow with my students and the gains that I see them making inspire me to no end.
This school year, however, has helped crystalize some thoughts I’ve had for some time. It’s all about who these kindergarteners and preschoolers will one day become. What kind of future are we preparing them for? And what kind of future should we ACTUALLY prepare them for?
So, please let me introduce you to the Graduating Class of 2031!
Automation is becoming ubiquitous; cars are driving themselves; 3D printing is used for everything from space technology, construction and even food; telemedicine makes up about 70% of all medicine, and AI is on track to dramatically disrupt the work force.
What will our homes and cars look like? What will our phones and computers be capable of doing? What kind of job do you think these kiddos will have and what will the booming industries be?
We might be thinking that not much will change in 12 years; but think back upon the last 12 years and about how much has already changed! Just look at how much our phones have evolved! I definitely remember going through college with my tiny “Juke,” before upgrading to a Razer! I certainly couldn’t stream all the episodes of Fuller House on that! (Hey, if you’re going to go on a Netflix binge, might as well indulge your guilty pleasure!)
So, while you may think that things won’t change that much before your children graduate, just take a moment to look back at some extremely disruptive companies and technologies that did not exist 12 years ago, including: Airbnb (2008), GPS on your smartphone (2008), Uber (2009), Venmo (2009) and Whatsapp (2009). iPads (2010), Instagram (2010), and Square (2010) to name just a few. What new technologies will be running our lives by the time these kids graduate in 2031?
Are we preparing children for this future?
Our schools today look astonishingly similar to what they looked like 100 years ago. It seems we are still preparing children for the industrial revolution! Although I see some teachers doing amazing work, the educational system as a whole, is not setting children up for the future that is fast-approaching.
We know that technology is important, but it seems ALL of our focus is on tech and hard sciences. The emphasis on STEM at the expense of “soft” skills such as communication, arts, psychology, intrapersonal skills, and language skills is extremely detrimental in the very near future.
The advances in automation and AI are going to cause many jobs that we know today to virtually disappear. The first jobs to go will be those that require repetitive tasks that are easily automated. Drivers (taxi, truck, bus, delivery, etc.), retail workers, cashiers, accountants, many jobs in the finance industry are some of the jobs that will be gone in the very near future.
Furthermore, there are those that believe that with evolving machine intelligence, many careers that we think are immune to automation, such as nurses, teachers, and even preschool-teachers, could eventually become obsolete as well.
Several studies have been conducted on the effects that technology will have on the future of jobs. Studies such as the 2013 Oxford Study predict that about 47% of US jobs are at high risk of becoming computerized, while a study done by the International Federation of Robotics in 2013 predicted that 2 million jobs would be created by robots in the following 8 years. More recently, a 2017 report by the McKinsey Global Institute found that 39 million to 73 million US jobs could be obsolete by 2030. The only thing that we can say with certainty, however, is that things are going to change dramatically!
Researchers have blamed computers for the jobless growth in recent times. We can see that computerization has caused a decline in middle-income routine jobs in areas such as manufacturing. 3D printers, for example, have the capacity to greatly change the manufacturing industry. Manufacturing has decreased in the U.S. (It’s about 50% below what it was at its peak in 1979) and gone abroad, where it has become more efficient and cost effective. We could however, see a turn-around with new technologies and start-ups developing in the U.S. that will require high-skilled, knowledgeable and creative labor to maximize its use and potential.
However, displacement could occur in “upstream” manufacturing, the factories in which products are made. These could be replaced by individuals and stores that 3D print their items and sell them on location. Manufacturing in the U.S. consists of about 15.4 million jobs so this impact could be huge! In fact, 3D printing could seriously disrupt food, military, electronics, toys, and automotive industries.
So, what do you we do?
How can we possibly prepare our children for such a future that seems beyond human productivity? I don’t claim to have the answers. But to me, it seems that we need to disrupt the educational system. We need to help children break outside of the box of this system we have thus far created and rarely updated.
The same McKinsey study mentioned above indicated that about 20 million displaced workers could shift easily into related occupations. About one third, or 16 to 54 million workers, will have to be retrained into completely new occupations. We are talking about a shift as significant as when we turned from an agrarian to an industrial society!
We need our children to become better creative thinkers, to have better communication skills and interpersonal skills. They of course need to learn the latest technology (coding is an invaluable skill that ALL children should be learning), but they also need to be learning art, writing, interpersonal skills, and multiple languages.
Businesses all over are looking for people who can think differently, innovate, communicate and collaborate. Students should be allowed to explore, tinker, and create. They should be given real world problems to tackle on a regular basis. They should be posing problems themselves and then finding ways to solve them. They should be given the opportunity to invent, launch businesses, and learn with real-world experiences from a very young age. They shouldn’t just be absorbing knowledge; they should be creating knowledge.
We are going to require people to come up with new ways of working with machines and new ways of organizing our society. There is a revolution coming and these little minds that we are trying to mold today, need to be given the freedom to mold our future.
About the Author
Keli Garcia Allen is a certified Spanish teacher and currently works as a Preschool teacher in a bilingual classroom. She is the Head of Content for Learn Safari and is currently working on Spanish Safari, a Spanish Learning game for children 4-10 years old. You can follow her and the rest of the team on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.