Why the goalposts for education need to change

Education has always been about preparing young people for the future. But when the future looks radically different to today, its difficult to predict what that will be.

Relatively speaking, the twentieth century has been quite stable. Incremental changes in our education system have been enough to keep pace with the needs of students when they enter the workforce.

However, the next 10 to 15 years will usher in the fourth industrial revolution, Industry 4.0, which will bring with it unprecedented disruption to our economies and labour markets as advances in artificial intelligence and digital technology change the nature of work.

Incremental change simply won’t be enough any more.

Currently education systems measure their success through academic achievement - which seems logical - but in the context of the 4th Industrial Revolution these goal posts will leave our young people ill-prepared for the future. High achievement in the three R’s of reading, writing, and arithmetic, will not be the differentiators of the future. Artificial Intelligence will, in many spheres of work, be equally effective in these skills. The goalposts for education need to change.

We’re already seeing major changes in the needs of our workforce. The demand for routine work, both manual and cognitive, has decreased dramatically. Manufacturing and assembly line work, as well the work of bookkeepers and paralegals has been largely replaced by robotics and algorithms.

As a result, non-routine roles make up a larger portion of the job market than they used to - particularly jobs that require creative thinking, innovation, and entrepreneurship.

Educational policies, around the world as well as in Australia, have long recognised these trends. Yet after ten years of research into Australia’s educational institutions and over 1,000 classroom observations, we see a system that still relies on measuring academic achievement and pedagogies that support rote learning of easily testable facts. Despite continued efforts to overhaul education in Australia and reviews like Gonski 2, the system has proven quite inflexible to change.

But change it must. If we don’t set new targets for our students to attain, any attempt to reform teaching will still be a slave to the three R’s, basic skills tests, and end of year examinations.

With Industry 4.0 looming, these changes are needed now. Otherwise, we risk wasting the talent of tomorrow by teaching students how to thrive in the world of yesterday.

Jonathan Englert