Seizing the future

Automation is no longer some distant robotic prospect but a reality. How long, or bad, the turbulance lasts depends on how prepared we are

The world around us is changing at a fast pace. Automation is no longer some distant robotic prospect but a reality. We are already seeing basic jobs evaporate, but it won’t stop there. It will continue across middle management as well. We’re seeing changes in areas such as data science and accountancy as more automation comes in. 

It’s just the reality of the times, and will invariably bring turbulence to society and the economy. How long, or bad, that turbulence lasts depends on how prepared we are. So how do we get children ready for a world that we can’t predict or imagine? In a world of constant change, trying to predict is to no avail.

Now more than ever, life skills have to be the foundation of our education system. We have to spend time to teach them, rather than just expect them to be acquired somehow

Until two years ago, virtual reality was the hottest thing around. It was going to revolutionise everything, from education to travel, and was going to be this massive turnaround in societal norms. But already there is talk of the virtual reality cycle heavily slowing down, and re-calibrating to focus on the actual sensible things it can do. Big investors in the market, such as Facebook, have downgraded expectations on virtual reality.

So, how do we prepare this generation for an unknown tomorrow? We do so by going back to basics. Life skills are the first step. These are the essential skills that you need to manage and live a better life, and to accomplish personal ambitions. There isn’t a list of these – any skill that is useful in your life can be considered a life skill. They vary from the basic, such as tying your shoe laces, all the way up to changing a hard-disk on a computer.

Life skills include study skills, negotiation skills, ability to communicate, leadership, time management, self-sufficiency, organisation skills, conflict resolution, managing stress and analytical problem solving. They are often the skills employers look at first. Now more than ever, they have to be the foundation of our education system. We have to spend time to teach them, rather than just expect them to be acquired somehow.

It’s a little bit like providing an explorer with maps, a compass, a knife, a torch and a tent and preparing him or her with all the knowledge needed. The expedition in itself is unknown but the explorer is as prepared as he or she can be. In similar fashion, we need to place our children in a position to learn needed skills, rather than ultimate skills.

In addition, we now have a society where people change career paths all the time. Every one of us knows at least one or two individuals who studied for years to graduate in a specific area, only to then change direction and take a completely different road a few years down the line. 

The take home lesson of all these variables is a simple one – lifelong learning is going to be the new normal. In the past, lifelong learning was something you did some time after you left formal education. You learnt a language or a new skillset. For many, it was a ‘want’ rather than a ‘need’, something you did to help you grow as a person, and learn something new.

But lifelong learning is turning into a need. Today the last day on the school bench is no longer the last day where you’re learning something new. Instead of a school bench it might be somewhere else, but the learning has got to continue. The good news is that this generation is already accustomed to learning outside the traditional educational framework. They were born into it. For example, many local companies employ IT developers who learned a coding language on their own through online training and tutorials. But we must also realign everyone else to this new reality, and moreover, prepare the next generation for it.


Evarist Bartolo is Minister of Education and Employment

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