To thrive in digital economy students must be both jobs, future-ready – experts


January 26, 2017 | 4:03 pm
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For education to stay relevant and generate the skills-mix needed to deal with the impact of digital technology on jobs, ageing, migration and climate change it must be reinvented, experts at the just concluded World Economic Forum said.

In 2015, industrial robot sales increased by 15 percent to 253,748 units, by far the highest level ever recorded for one year. The main driver of the growth in 2015 was the general industry with an increase of 33 percent compared to 2014, in particular the electronics industry (+41 percent), metal industry (+39 percent), the plastics and rubber industry (+16 percent). The robot sales in the automotive industry only moderately increased in 2015 after a five year period of continued considerable increase, data from the Industrial Robot Statistics show.

What this means some experts say is that up to 47 percent of jobs may be automated away. Others are more nuanced and hold that it would be probably only about 9 percent. Either way technology, especially artificial intelligence has kicked in a new era – the digital economy. Regardless of whether the jobs disappear or not, those that would stay at least 30 percent of the core skills that would be required for them on average will be completely transformed in just three years by 2020.

To deal with this, some urgent changes are need in the way education is done especially in the area of forms of learning experience.  Modes of learning that nurture creativity; entrepreneurial dexterity and innovation are to be encouraged. It is also important that students acquire knowledge they can use right from day one.

“There certainly has been an increase in public attention to the changes taking place around us. Two or three years ago we were lone voices in the desert here at the World Economic Forum drawing attention to the changing landscape created by technology. For instance when we spoke of driverless cars people thought we were a little whacky and talked about realities from a science fiction” said Eric Bryrijolfsson, director, Initiative on the Digital Economy at the MIT Sloan School of Management, Massachusett, USA at the 2017 WEF.

Bryrijolfsson added “we are beginning to see more and more driverless cars in Boston, Singapore, Pittsburg and elsewhere and the machine learning revolution has kicked-in and machines are beginning to read street signs better than humans can and diagnose cancer from medical images. Really all five senses are beginning to have systems that are very good at them, especially the new kinds of machines that are adept at deep learning.  These are machines that can go through large volumes of data, identify patterns and on their own make inferences.”

This growing technology trend is taking away jobs. The benefits are enormous, too. It means improved health care system and billions of dollars of value addition for companies.  The flip side is that not everybody is benefiting from this technological revolution and there is no economic law that says everyone must benefit from such a revolution.

For Susan Fortier, principal and vice-chancellor or McGill University in Canada, a lot of jobs will disappear or change significantly. “This would first affect lower skill jobs, but with increased sensorial capacity of many of the algorithm use in these machines, we will see higher skill jobs in the future disappearing, too. We have not acted as rapidly as we should. I had the opportunity to visit a BMW car plant and it was amazing to see all the robotics, which translated into job losses as well.”

“We need to invest more in education but fundamentally we need reinvent how education is done. Most of our education today is geared towards an industrial economy. We have people sit in rows of desk, quietly and we say please follow the instruction, do not get out of sync with anyone, memorise these facts” Bryrijolfsson contends.

“Following instruction and memorising facts are activities machines do better than humans. What humans have comparative advantage in are creativity, thinking-outside-the-box and large scale problem solving. The other areas are in interpersonal relationships, emotional intelligence, connecting with people. Right now our universities do not do much to foster those skills, such as teamwork.” he surmised.


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January 26, 2017 | 4:03 pm
  |     |     |   Start Conversation

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