The Future Of Work: Why We Need Curriculum Innovation More Urgently Than Ever
The pandemic has excruciatingly widened the gaps in our society — wealthy vs. poor, majorities vs. minorities, educated vs. undereducated, tech savvy vs. laggards.
And, even before the pandemic, we discussed the impact of AI/ ML on the future of work and potential inequalities in the transition. It’s estimated that 65% of students entering the primary education system will have jobs that don’t yet exist. However, according to industry research findings, “Only 3% in the United States, 10% in the U.K., and 12% in Canada ‘strongly agree’ that universities in their countries are preparing graduates for success in the current workforce.” I would add secondary schools to this grim picture.
The pandemic accelerated the adoption of technology and remote learning tools by education institutions and educators to unprecedented levels. While this progress deserves celebration for all technophiles like myself, the pandemic also increased inequalities for young people in education and their consequent career prospects. As 80% of the world’s students — over 1.6 billion young people — are not attending school, many students in underprivileged regions cannot access online courses or face difficulties studying at home. According to The Economist (paywall), researchers from Harvard and Brown Universities found while going over data from Zearn, an online math-teaching platform, that students “in high-income schools are actually performing 12% better in their coursework than in January 2020. But for low-income schools, scores fell by 17%.” We need to address these inequalities, provide resources and create opportunities for students, especially those disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.
There is hope, however. Taking this technology adoption acceleration in education to the next level could be the remedy. Suppose we can use this revolutionary remote or hybrid learning period during the pandemic as an opportunity to truly embed digital skilling as part of school curriculums. In that case, technology can be one of the fastest, lowest-cost and most impactful tools to close these widening gaps in post-pandemic society. After all, 8 of the 10 best jobs in America for 2021 are in tech. It can create opportunities for our youth — no matter where they are based, which background they come from, which “class” or “family” they belong to. I know because I am an example. Coming from a middle-income family in Turkey, there is no way I would have the life and the career I have now without my tech-focused education. We need this change urgently and at scale: We acutely need curriculum innovation to ensure our children’s education is future-proof and equitable.
There are two ways to approach this challenge and opportunity: top-down, which would require governments to revamp their education systems and curricula, and bottom-up. Given the post-pandemic economic pressures on governments, the first approach is likely to take time. For the latter, a straightforward solution is to have schools and education institutions participate in hackathons, boot camps, and competitions to offer maximum opportunities for their student body to embrace technology and start developing their tech projects.
Some may immediately say, “But we do not have enough ICT teachers to support this kind of learning.” Please make no mistake: Today’s youth are incredibly competent in finding their means to learn about tech from their friends, social media or YouTube channels. Many tech firms host such events free of charge almost regularly throughout the year. Similarly, many tech leaders like myself find immense joy in volunteering and mentoring students in these events working hand in hand with educators.
Another option is to have pilot programs to demonstrate the effectiveness and impact of technology education. Such programs provide curriculum review and development resources, including curriculum framework, structure, objectives, and mapping for each grade level. Pilot programs can be localized and adapted as needed, offering perfect opportunities to try out new initiatives.
There is no time to lose. Let’s try all options.