Research from Oxford University suggests that 47% of jobs currently performed by people are at significant risk of being taken over by computers in the next 20 years. Not just manual jobs – accountants, lawyers, doctors and pilots are all at risk.
Over the years, humankind has had two standard responses to this change in employment prospects:
- A despairing acceptance of lower living standards and a life on the dole; and
- A Luddite attempt to prevent the new technology from taking over.
The first of those approaches is unsatisfactory and the second doesn’t work. So what to do?
What the world needs is a system of education that equips today’s children to survive and stay ahead of the machine when they become tomorrow’s adults. And, so far, that system is not being put in place. The curriculum in place at Coláiste Ráithín, like the curriculum at every other place of secondary education in Ireland, is set by the Ministry for Education and Skills. It’s very much the same curriculum as would have applied eighty years ago; there’s been a little tweaking, a little modernization – but not much. Not enough. The core subjects have not changed.
The individuals who do best in the years to come will have skills in abstract reasoning. They will be creative people. They’ll need to be, because the tasks left to them will be those that resist automation. It’s computation, in a sense, but it’s not the kind of computation that machines can do. It’s known as “computational thinking”. And it isn’t taught in schools. Yet. Or even encouraged in schools. Yet. But it will have to be, if humans are not just to survive in tomorrow’s world but thrive there.
Ireland has put a lot of effort and spent a lot of money on bringing technology into schools like Coláiste Ráithín. What Ireland has to do now is to invest similar time and effort into teaching computational thinking. And not just in schools like Coláiste Ráithín. The work has to begin at primary school level.
Daunting? Well, yes. But challenges exist to be overcome.