Preparing students for an AI-driven future: The need for educational reform

Preparing students for an AI-driven future: The need for educational reform

As published in EdTech Innovation Hub.

Summary: Ed Gossage, co-founder of 7DOTS, explores how education must evolve to prepare students for an AI-driven future in an article for EdTech Innovation Hub. He emphasises the need to move beyond rote learning and standardised tests to foster critical thinking, problem-solving, and resilience. Ed argues for a balanced approach to mental health and realism, highlighting the importance of practical skills and real-world experiences. By adapting education to nurture adaptability, lifelong learning, and soft skills, we can better equip students to navigate the rapidly changing job market and thrive in an AI-driven world.

In an exclusive for ETIH, Ed Gossage, a technology leader and co-founder of 7DOTS explores how education must evolve to prepare students for an AI-driven future.

The world of work is on the cusp of radical change. A McKinsey report suggests 800 million jobs could be automated in the next 20 years. Yet, our education system, largely based on a 200-year-old model, struggles to prepare students for the present, let alone an AI-driven future.

Consider this. According to Institute for the Future (IFTF) 85% of the jobs that today's students will have in 2030 haven't even been invented yet. As someone whose job didn’t exist when I was at school I can relate! As a former school governor, a parent, and a technology advocate, this disconnect troubles me. In my own business, even core 21st century skills like coding face potential obsolescence in years to come.  So, what work-ready skills should we equip children with to navigate this uncertainty?

Critical thinking and problem solving

The relentless focus on academic metrics overshadows well-rounded student development, and this trend is intensifying. A 2020 study by University College London's Centre for Education Policy Research found that England's emphasis on standardised tests narrowed the curriculum. It forces teachers to prioritise rote learning, sacrificing critical thinking and creativity skills.

This is a critical issue. The very skills neglected – adaptability, problem-solving, and critical thinking – will be essential in an AI-driven future. The new landscape demands a thirst for knowledge and the ability to navigate complexity. This is particularly the case in a world where information learning and dissemination is being done more effectively by technology.

Education must evolve. It's not enough to just memorise facts – we have Google for that. We need to ignite a passion for lifelong learning and nurture students who can navigate complexity with confidence. Problem-solving and critical thinking will remain key pillars of success, even in the unpredictable future. I will put myself out on a limb and say that this will never change.

Let’s cultivate curious minds, not crammed ones.

Building resilience 

Resilience, the ability to bounce back from setbacks, is a vital trait to cultivate to thrive in the workplace and support positive mental health. This is particularly striking in a time of rapid societal and technological change. 

A 2021 OECD report highlights that UK students underperform in social-emotional skills like resilience compared to the OECD average. This impacts their ability to thrive after leaving school.

The evidence bears this out. A 2023 Resolution Foundation report highlights a concerning rise in young adults (18-24) taking time off work due to ill health, compared to those in their early 40s.

Striking a balance between mental health and resilience is key.

However, it is important to explain that resilience isn’t a single trait. It’s about getting comfortable with being uncomfortable. Older people are going to be more resilient because they’ve been there before and have experienced different situations.

While addressing mental health concerns is crucial, overemphasising vulnerability at the expense of resilience can be detrimental. Social media, often criticised for cultivating unrealistic life goals, further complicates this. Equipping students with media literacy and fostering a supportive environment are essential. 

By encouraging students to face challenges, rather than avoiding them, we equip them for future success. Building this resilience is also the best tonic for supporting strong mental health.

Success comes from navigating challenges, not avoiding them.

Embracing realism

The seemingly ubiquitous mantra of "you can be anything you want to be" is really not helpful. It sets unrealistic expectations and invariably leads to disappointment. We see it everywhere – Ed Sheeran playing recordings of his (not great) singing in his early teens; Lewis Hamilton talking of his struggles to get to F1 without the financial backing others had at an early age. 

The trouble is that we can’t all be famous musicians and there are only 20 Formula 1 drivers in any given year. Don’t get me started on football! There are over 5,000 professional footballers in the UK, but far more disappointed teenagers being thrown out of the brutal academy system on a yearly basis.

The truth is that this mentality, promoted by celebrities and self-help books, often ignores the realities of the job market – not to mention the fact that evidently very few of us are born with those skills (or even the potential). I would argue that fostering unglamorous realism is crucial for well-rounded character development. Indeed striking a balance between ambition and realism is essential.

An entitlement mentality based on time served, often seen in today's job market, can lead to dissatisfaction (as evidenced by a 2023 Deloitte survey showing 43% of UK millennials and Gen Z are unhappy with their current jobs).

The word “credentialism” has recently entered my consciousness. The obsession with certificates and external validation. I once had a conversation with a younger employee about whether they were more interested in having a bit of paper to say that they were good at their job, or if they genuinely wanted to feel they were a master of their craft. It was a rhetorical question.

We should be encouraging students to pursue their passions while fostering a pragmatic understanding of their capabilities. This includes acknowledging the role of hard work, dedication and experience in achieving career goals. We need to instil a growth mindset focused on hard work and self-betterment.

This starts at school.

Real-world experiences and interpersonal skills

Away from the curricula, real-world experiences and interpersonal skills are equally invaluable, especially as technology reshapes the future of work. The World Economic Forum estimates up to 85 million jobs could be displaced by automation by 2025, while 97 million new ones are created. Those who can adapt will be in the strongest position to succeed. Employers increasingly seek candidates who demonstrate adaptability, communication prowess, and a willingness to learn.

As an employer myself, I see countless students with impressive academic records, but it's the skills beyond the transcript that truly excite me. When I see a CV, I’ll take a cursory glance at what they’ve studied and home in on the gaps and their extra-curricular activities – that often tells me much more. It still amazes me how many recruiters advise candidates to remove “worked in pub” or such-like for the sake of brevity. 

For many, working in a service industry (a pub, McDonalds, whatever!) as a teenager is the first time that they’ve put themselves into a position where people outside of their family, friends and schoolteachers have put expectations on them. My son has spent the last 18 months refereeing youth football – now if you want to talk about expectations…

The increasing role of technology in the workplace further amplifies the significance of these soft skills. While automation may displace some jobs, it will also create new ones requiring strong collaboration, critical thinking, and problem-solving abilities. These are all areas where soft skills shine.

As educators and parents, it's our collective responsibility to prepare the next generation of leaders and innovators by providing them with the essential habits and skills they need to succeed. By embracing change and redefining the purpose of education, we can ensure that young people are well-equipped to navigate the challenges and opportunities of the future.

They will thank us later.

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Ed Gossage

Chairman & COO Connect