I misplaced my phone a few days ago, and I went crazy until I could find it. It was almost as if I couldn't function. The funny thing is, I didn't even own one until a few years ago. Yet, I somehow managed to get through my days in relative peace and productivity.
This seems to be the case with technology. As recently as a decade ago, much of the tech that streamlines our lives and jobs didn't even exist to the extent and capability that we've become accustomed to today.
Imagine what our lives will be like ten years from now.
It is this kind of projection that has business leaders and educators sounding alarm bells in think tanks and industrial publications all over the world.
Some researchers predict that, by the year 2030, we could lose up to 40 percent of jobs considered essential today. That includes white-collar staples in fields like accounting, law, and medicine.
The recent pandemic has even forced us to redefine what careers are considered essential to some extent, and how many jobs we can actually get by without. There's a fear that this trend will render the bulk of our workforce unemployable when technology dominates.
As much as some people fear that technology will make people obsolete, at least in modern workplaces, when applied strategically and with intelligent foresight, emerging tech will enhance our lives and create new career paths.
Consider how many occupations that are common today didn't exist in 2010, such as social media manager and digital influencer.
While many of the technologies currently in use will become obsolete by the time today's students enter the workforce, basic technical skills and principles will remain relevant.
For example, take someone who graduated in the late 1980s with a computer science degree.
Almost all of the programming languages and methods mastered then seem like ancient hieroglyphics to today's STEM students, and they're completely irrelevant in the workplace. Windows and the commercial internet didn't even exist; the information superhighway was merely a dirt road from university to university.
However, the principles of coding, such as logic and data flow, are still essential.
When assessing and using tech in the classroom, here are some skills educators can help develop in their students that will always be in demand.
Businesses have been gradually transitioning to the cloud for some time due to the demands of data collection and storage. Recent events have forced remote learning and work and made the art of distance collaboration an essential skill. Zoom meetings and TV broadcasts demonstrate nearly unlimited potential.
We currently have cloud-based technologies like Google Drive at our disposal. They're even loaded onto our smartphones and computers by default.
Teachers can prioritize using such platforms in the classroom by allowing students to work on projects together or exchange files and information. This teaches them to use technology to work toward a common goal without restrictions on time or geographic location, which will become the norm in the future.
Another thing that recent events have taught us is how surreal the world can be. We're veering into an atmosphere dominated by fake news and misinformation that leaves us feeling unable to trust our own eyes and ears.
Educators can reinforce critical thinking skills and analytical capabilities by teaching students how to discern fact from fiction. This can be achieved by incorporating research and fact-checking technologies/methodology.
They can also cover the ethics of internet usage, help students understand the dangers of misinformation, and explore the methods used to create and spread false information.
Moving further into the fourth industrial revolution – what some are calling Industry 4.0 – there is a comprehensive case to be made about the advantages of formerly “sci-fi scary” technologies like robotics, AI, and machine learning.
For example, big data is one of the driving forces behind the business in nearly every sector and industry. Once our children graduate and enter the workforce, data analysis and related technologies will dominate the landscape.
Educators can leverage existing tech and encourage analytical thinking that will be needed in the future. For example, they can have students create and conduct surveys using Google Forms and then present the information they collect. This platform is free and widely available on the internet, and it will allow students to hone their ability to collect, analyze, and present data.
With smartphones, students have an unlimited amount of knowledge and educational resources in the palm of their hand. Google has become a verb, as well as a search platform. Teachers can leverage this unprecedented access and capability by teaching students creative ways to use the tech tools they have at their disposal.
For example, students can use 360-degree video tech to take a virtual field trip to almost any place in the world without ever leaving their classroom. Many museums and historical sites offer such access for free online.
With the freedom technology offers comes responsibility. Teachers need to highlight the importance of online safety and cybersecurity by using best practices in their classrooms and teaching students safety standards like passwords security and basic netiquette, such as how not to be a troll.
Since we’ll be working in predominantly virtual workplaces, it’s essential to also acquire proper communication skills, which are different online than in the real world.
One of the drawbacks of online communication is that we miss many cues that we usually receive through body language. There is also the pitfall of not getting the message across, so when in doubt, overcommunicating on project goals or requirements and asking for proper feedback are the way to go.
We witness a rapid change in the technology that we use on a daily basis. When some tech becomes obsolete or is replaced by a new standard, it’s important to be able to get accustomed to these changes fast.
Luckily, even without continuing formal education, it is easier than ever to stay up to date on industry demands and standards. Case in point: our example student from the 1980s would have needed to pick up web design, JAVA Script, and HTML to stay in the industry once these technologies became a standard. However, it’s easy to do so via online courses, training, and tutorials, many of which are free.
Encouraging students to identify skill gaps and upgrading their skills when necessary will make it easier for them to adapt to any new software or equipment they might encounter in the future.
The future paradigm shifts that seem so jarring today will be gradual in reality as long as we prioritize the foundational technical knowledge future workers will need to survive.
Rather than fearing that robots will replace us, enlightened leaders in business and education are highlighting ways that tech will enhance our lives and free us to explore new horizons.
For our students to transition into a workforce that is agile and adaptable, we should veer away from an education model based on a 19th century production-based mindset. The new focus should be on a core curriculum that puts technical prowess at its foundation, combined with developing the soft skills that make us human.