Preparing Our Children for the AI-Powered Future
Originally published on MIT Technology Review. Reprinted with permission.
By Mark Esposito, Clinical Professor of Global Shifts and the Fourth Industrial Revolution
Simply put, our modern day educational system is outdated, unfitting, and no longer works. Often referred to as the “factory model” of education, this system essentially prepares students to become identically-programmed specimens in their development, teaching them a very rigid set of theories and skills, and as a result pushes out identical versions of the same product. This may have been effective in Victorian times, when it was developed, as the purpose was to train civil servants requiring a limited and specific skillset, but it is grossly inadequate for the needs of children who will be working in the age of the 4th Industrial Revolution and beyond.
While the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Industrial Revolutions were characterized by insularity, the 4th Industrial Revolution can be considered a “foundational revolution,” that will create entirely new ways for technology to exist in the world. Instead of evolving in a linear fashion, these technologies will begin to converge with one another, the prime example of this being AI.
What does that mean for the future of work and our children?
It means that a majority of the jobs our current education system is preparing our children for will be irrelevant by the time they are adults. According to one estimate, up to 65% of children in primary school will end up working in jobs that don’t even exist yet.  In addition to this, they won’t have the luxury we once had of a stable career and job security. We can see these trends now, with 21% of millennials reporting they’ve changed jobs within the last year in a recent Gallup report. A survey from career platform The Muse showed that 58% of its largely millennial user base planned on switching jobs this year.
This generation is showing diminishing feelings of loyalty to their current employers and are in constant search for learning opportunities, growth, and flexibility. According to a 2017 Upwork “Freelancing in America” study, freelancers are expected to make up a majority of the U.S. workforce within the next decade. With their ability to adapt quickly to new technologies, coupled with the evolving job landscape, millennials and generations after will be experiencing a professional life far different than the one we did.
So that leads us to the question: As parents, what can we do to prepare our children for these changes?
We’ve identified four key areas we must develop and encourage in our kids to face these upcoming challenges that we call the four Cs: Creativity, coding, communication and confidence.
Creativity has long been an ability that is under-appreciated and under-encouraged by parents of our generation. Creativity is at the heart of entrepreneurship, and with the rise of the Gig Economy, more and more of the workforce will be made up of freelancers creating their own jobs, as well as an increase in ¨free-stack freelancers¨, or people working who have enough skills and knowledge to work in different capacities for different organisations. Feeding our children’s creativity is imperative for them to compete in a future where more and more mindless tasks will be taken over by machines. Encourage kids to read, and challenge them to think outside of the box.
Coding gives children the chance to interact with machines and computers in a more constructive way, and helps them better understand the relationship between humans and technology. (Note, however, that this is very different from simply letting children have more exposure to technological devices.) Becoming more nimble with handling technology will afford kids more opportunities in the workforce of the future, and having a healthy relationship and working knowledge of this technology will empower them to use it as a means to improving quality of life, instead of just seeing it as a threat. Enroll your child early on in coding courses, or, better yet, teach them yourself!
Communication. One of the best tools we can equip our children with is the ability to eloquently and effectively communicate. Unfortunately, the environment they are growing up in today is not conducive to this. Mobile phones, social media platforms, apps and email usage are all making it easier for us to avoid eye-to-eye contact, oftentimes allowing us to escape uncomfortable, yet necessary, situations. Many young people even lack the ability to write a simple email message, let alone making requests politely and eloquently. Reading verbal cues, actively listening, and problem-solving with someone else is imperative to professional success. The ability to express oneself verbally also leads to better emotional fitness. Encourage your children to have conversations with you and share their feelings. For example, when they have done something wrong, don’t send them to their room with their phone or game console. Instead, ask them to outline their feelings in a journal, then communicate them to you afterwards. Encouraging them to learn a new language is also a fantastic way to open up new avenues of expression and ways of seeing the world around them.
Confidence. Finally, we must cultivate confidence in our kids. As we move towards a future that is largely unknown and new to us all, children must feel that they are in charge of their own destiny. This allows them to make decisions without the fear of making mistakes or doubting their own judgement. One of the best ways we can promote this attitude is to encourage them to take risks and become active decision-makers in their everyday lives. It can be as simple as letting them choose between trying broccoli or asparagus for dinner one night. When they try something new, celebrate it, even if it didn’t go as planned. Allow them to learn that many victories come after many more defeats.
Although no one can be certain what the world will look like in the next five or ten years, it’s clear that our modern system of education is not doing its job in preparing our children for a future in a technology-driven world. Until this system changes, it is up to us as parents to instill the skills and attitudes necessary for kids to succeed. By focusing less on SAT scores and GPAs and by encouraging the four Cs, we will be providing our children tools that will give them an advantage in a future that will be hard to predict and undoubtedly highly competitive.
This article has been co-authored with Terence Tse
- Tse T., Esposito M., & Goh D. (2019) The AI Republic: Creating the Nexus Between Humans and Intelligent Automation. Lioncrest Publishing
- Davidson, Cathy N, Now You See It: How Technology and Brain Science Will Transform Schools and Business for the 21st Century (New York: Penguin Books, 2012.)