Aligning the future of learning with the future of work — Tan Ming Hui

SEPTEMBER 10 — Covid-19 has disrupted classes for more than one billion students but the crisis also presents an opportunity to rethink teaching strategies and reinvent education.

Even prior to the pandemic, the traditional classroom method of teaching and learning had been seen as outdated.

Globally, educators have been exploring innovative ways to move away from a teacher-led, “factory-style” classroom setting towards student-oriented flexible learning spaces to encourage collaborative interactions, engagement, and feedback.

Skills mismatch and potential workforce fragility provide additional impetus to reevaluate having a centralised school curriculum.

In the digital age, new jobs are emerging constantly, requiring new skillsets and knowledge. The work environment is also evolving quickly.

Concerned with closing the “skills gap” of what we learned in school and what we need to know for work, many have called for a revolution of reskilling and upskilling, with over one billion workers by 2030 needing to reskill.

While the promotion and normalising of lifelong learning is critical to prepare the society for job disruptions, one must also place equal emphasis on revamping and updating education models to avoid a disconnect with the realities of the future.

What to learn?

A January 2020 report by the World Economic Forum suggests skills in the following eight skills areas for modern education: Global citizenship; innovation and creativity; technology; interpersonal; personalised and self-paced learning; accessible and inclusive learning; problem-based and collaborative learning; and lifelong and student-driven learning.

The future generation of workers are likely to fill in for skills that even intelligent machines cannot replicate or at least perform as well as humans.

This would include social care and emotional support roles, cultural creations, as well as work that requires frequent human interactions and collaborations.

Moreover, job scopes are likely to be less defined and more fluid. Hence, adaptability, innovation, creativity, and entrepreneurship are core competencies that must be cultivated and encouraged throughout one’s education, on top of the basic knowledge of reading, writing, mathematics, and the sciences.

To minimise social panic during crises, societies also needs to build future-ready skills with a basic awareness of global emerging trends and a mindset of crisis readiness.

For example, futures literacy, especially for higher education, is a skill that can help people gain understanding and the ability to imagine the future in a useful way, encouraging innovative solutions for future issues.

Young learners will also benefit from information and media literacy, which empowers them to independently discern facts from fake news and disinformation campaigns.

Modern education models should also place importance on personal ethics and values, to groom responsible global citizens who not only understand, but can also positively and actively contribute to crucial issues such sustainability and social disparity.

How to learn and how to teach?

Pedagogies and learning paradigms are also evolving quickly. As with other sectors, the education sector’s dependence on modern technology will continue to accelerate.

Even before the pandemic made home-based technologically-driven learning imperative, education institutions have already been increasingly embracing integration with new technology,  as  well as applying cognitive psychology and neurosciences to inform the best teaching and learning methods.

Artificial Intelligence systems can even be used to tailor and personalise learning, creating customisation for each individual student.

In the future, teaching and learning is likely to become less linear and flexible. For example, they might become more bite-sized and on-demand to manage information overflow, enabled by wearable devices such as smart glasses or contact lenses that can provide information instantly.

Virtual and augmented reality technologies are also regarded as powerful new tools that can create immersive experiences to boost engagement and learning retention.

Beginning from early education, collaborative and creative activities should be promoted. Learning through play has been found to be a holistic method to create deeper learning experiences, which generates meaning for the child and promotes internalisation and long-term retention.

Play can also develop a range of social, creative, cognitive, and motor skills.

Self-paced and self-chosen learning, as well as self-testing to develop student agency and personal resilience can also be explored as an educational method, particularly for older students.

Drawing from Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s concept of antifragility, adults should minimise interference and interventions to shield children from randomness and mess.

Instead, exposure to constant variability and uncertainty should be allowed, so that they can learn to adapt to new circumstances and overcome adversity.

This may also encourage self-strengthening and innovative behaviours while they face any unexpected developments.

To be sure, the education sector and local universities are making considerable efforts to introduce innovative educational methods and integrate the use of technology to support education.

For example, as early as 2015, Nanyang Technological Univerisity launched The Hive, which has “done away with traditional classroom layout with its 56 curvilinear smart classrooms that are equipped with the latest technologies.”

Inevitability of change, ongoing challenges

In recent years, there has been a growing recognition in Singapore of the need for workers and students to adapt to new realities.

The government has thus launched the SkillsFuture national movement to promote lifelong learning.

In 2016, a plan to set up lifelong learning centres across the five autonomous universities was announced.

However, the push for lifelong learning continues to face sociocultural challenges such as a bias towards academic grades in place of vocational training.

Participation of seniors in lifelong learning is also limited.

Embracing educational reforms inevitably require an adjustment period — existing sociocultural preferences and mindsets do not shift overnight, and giving up established practices and structures that have worked well in the past will also require time.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution and the current Covid-19 crisis have made adaptability and educational reforms even more urgent.

The ongoing pandemic and lockdowns all over the world have hastened the arrival of remote work as the norm. Many industries and employers may also be eager to accelerate their shifts to automation in order to build business resilience against pandemics, but this also threatens to displace more blue-collared workers.

Besides preparing children for future jobs that may not yet exist, schools are also under immense pressure to protect this generation of students that faces the disruptive fallouts of Covid-19.

There needs to be a right balance of providing adequate support and resources so that no one is left behind, while also allowing them space to learn from the challenge and rise above it independently.

To foster a future-ready population, a review and modernisation of our learning models and methods is not only vital, but unavoidable. — TODAY

* Tan Ming Hui is Associate Research Fellow in the Policy Studies Group at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Singapore.

** This is the personal opinion of the writer(s) or organisation(s) and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.

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