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Preparing for the uncertain future: KG-Ph D education

EducationWorld June 2020 | Teacher-2-teacher

With schools downing shutters worldwide, and learning having shifted online on a massive scale, a new era has dawned for KG-Ph D education. The novel Coronavirus aka Covid-19 pandemic, has upended lifestyles, and with production and usage of tablets, laptops and computers becoming ubiquitous, a new world of teaching-learning is taking shape. Projects, skills-building activities, maker spaces — the hitherto new mantras of education — are losing their sheen as learners struggle to find ways and means to apply theoretical knowledge.

Future markers of professional success are likely to be radically different from the metrics of the past few decades. Work is being reshaped by megatrends such as geopolitics, economic uncertainty, automation and digital transformation, changing demography and finally economic inequalities worldwide.

These megatrends are certain to impact young people. Choices of courses taken and career paths made now will determine success in an uncertain future. We believe that 3 basic ‘Cs’ — critical thinking, communication and collaboration skills are absolutely necessary to succeed in any career of the future.

Critical thinking. This is capability to view problems from refreshing perspectives, to think things through, take a few steps forward, advance arguments and counter-arguments and reason with evidence before taking the next big step.

Communication skills. To communicate effectively with people from all walks of life is a critical element of people management, service orientation, cooperation and negotiation.

Collaborative creativity. As problems become more complex, individual creativity is not enough. One needs the power of collaborative creativity — capability to inspire creativity within groups of highly skilled people.

While the 3Cs are set to become the new normal for all professions and vocations, liberal arts electives — the humanities, law, philosophy, design, communication, journalism, literature, psychology, art, music — are likely to be included in all higher education study programmes including engineering, law and medicine among others. This has also been strongly recommended in the National Education Policy (NEP) draft of the Dr. K. Kasturirangan Committee which is being given its final touches by the Union HRD ministry. While hard skills will remain important, developing core soft skills coupled with the ability to learn, unlearn and relearn on a regular basis will enable students to transform into lifelong learners.

Development of life-long learning capabilities is vital because there’s no certainty that the study programme you choose today will remain relevant in the next decade. With the onset of the digital age, it’s clear that many jobs will be automated and driven by artificial intelligence and robots. Hence the importance of continuous learning to remain a step ahead of the digital revolution that’s already upon us.

As technological advances multiply, traditional straight jacketed job roles will become passé. Multi-disciplinary knowledge and skills rather than specialisation, will stand graduates in good stead. Collaboration across disciplines is set to become normative. A good example is the domain of chemical ecology — the study of how organisms use chemicals to interact. And because chemicals usage is ubiquitous, this domain requires knowledge of botany, chemistry, microbiology, mammalogy and entomology for career progression.

For youth preparing for success in the uncertain future, the Cynefin framework — conceptualised by Dave Snowden (from his IBM days) — which categorises jobs of the future into obvious, complicated, complex, and chaotic and disorderly, is useful.

Obvious. These jobs are defined by standard operating procedures, legal structures and are rules-driven. They are already in the process of being automated. Thus, chartered accountancy and law are likely to have limited takers in the coming years. Close to 30 percent of graduates of premier law schools worldwide, are struggling to find work and chartered accountants in numerous countries have seen their practices dry up.

Complicated. These are high judgement jobs that have multiple right answers and numerous options. They require engineers, surgeons, high altitude divers and the like. These vocations are currently under threat of machine learning/ AI (artificial intelligence). But despite rapid advancements in technology, the demand for these skills is likely to persist for at least the next decade.

Complex. Kamini VidishaThese jobs need the human touch because they require intuition. Perseverance, expertise and long practice cannot be replicated by machines and AI. War strategists, market analysts, system designers who work at the junctions of technology and law are likely to be in demand for a long time.

Chaotic and disorderly. These jobs are not covered by any rule book. They are vocations that require quick response to macro events and crises. That’s why the jobs of politicians are perhaps the most secure.

(Kamini Vidisha is the Gurgaon-based co-founder of edtech company ACadru)

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