Updated: Aug 19, 2019
Whether we like it or not, technology and advances in artificial intelligence (AI) are set to revolutionize our lives this century on a scale never before seen in human history. The greatest 20th century technological advancements will seem like mole hills in comparison to what's coming. Smart devices and self-service check-outs are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Monumental change is coming... and our education system needs to get ahead of the curve while it still can.
The World Economic Forum (WEF) predicts that 65% of current primary (elementary) level students in today's schools will be employed in jobs which don't yet exist when they join the labor force a few years from now. Most unskilled and semi-skilled jobs are widely expected to be replaced by AI, which will do the same tasks as human workers while working 24/7 without the need for breaks, faster and more efficiently than their human counterparts. Highly skilled jobs are also vulnerable. Recent research found that AI outperformed the reviewing of legal documentation when pitted against human lawyers. AI achieved an average accuracy of 94% vs. 85% for human lawyers and took 26 seconds vs. 92 minutes on average to complete the review task. Like it or not, robots and other forms of AI are here to stay.
It's virtually impossible to predict how the future will play out in the next decade, let alone 50 years from now. But what we do know is that current industries will become obsolete or face big-scale disruptions by technology. Think of Uber and the taxi industry, but rather than making taxi journeys easier and more efficient using GPS and smart phone apps, self-driving cars will replace human taxi drivers altogether as the technology (which already exists) gets better and becomes more widely available.
So what does this mean for 21st century education? Well, there's one thing that'll be hard to replace by AI anytime soon and that's... wait for it... C-R-E-A-T-I-V-I-T-Y! And this, as you'll soon see, is the key to preparing children for a future of innovation and technology. When most people think of creativity, they'll jump straight to art, music or literature. However, engineers must be creative problem solvers. Product designers must be creative innovators. As must computer programmers to write code, business leaders to create brand-new product lines, and scientists to discover the cures to human diseases and the other big challenges facing humanity in the 21st century.
When I was in school nearly 20 years ago, there was remarkably little emphasis on creativity. Not much in English. None at all in maths. And nothing in science either. In English Literature, I did just one creative writing story and my teacher gave me a grade B but said my story-line was 'bizarre'. This put me off creative writing for life. Art involved some creativity but with little room to try new things and let my creative juices flow. I left school not knowing whether I had an ounce of creativity in me. It turns out I was brimming with the stuff! Unfortunately, I just never got chance to exercise my creative thinking faculties.
So the next time someone says that creativity isn't important, tell them it might just be the single most important attribute to build in the 21st century. It's the one thing that robots and computers can't do (at least any time soon)! This is also the view shared by the WEF who recently rated creativity as the third most important skill needed to thrive as a worker in 2020, a massive jump up from tenth place compared to 2015.