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Taking a Long Look at Schools and Work

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The Editors

In his latest book, Thank You for Being Late, Thomas L. Friedman argues that technological change, globalization, and climate change are happening at an accelerating pace all across the world. Artificial intelligence and automation are the engines driving much of the transformation in the workplace. Some experts even predict that 47 percent of today’s jobs could be done by machines within a couple of decades.

What this means, Friedman writes, “is that in this age of acceleration, everyone is going to have to raise their game in the classroom and for their whole lifetime.”

So what skills do students need to succeed in the uncertain, intensely competitive workplace of the future? Education Week begins answering that question in this special report, “Schools and the Future of Work.”

Students, of course, will continue to need a solid grounding in core academics, especially math, science, and literacy. But what else? Colorado is betting big on a statewide system of apprenticeships to pave a secure economic future for students and businesses. And students in the state’s Aurora school district are earning digital “badges,” or credentials, to signal their acquisition of specific skills. Empathy, creativity, and collaboration skills will also be needed.

Given that no one really knows which skills will be in demand, the default for educators may be teaching students to “learn how to learn” so they can acquire skills throughout their lifetimes to stay marketable. But how does that play out in the classroom?

And what if there is no—or not enough—paid work for all? That may be the time to redefine work, writes Scott Santens, an author and basic-income advocate, in a provocative closing commentary for the report. He argues that humans may need to find purpose in unpaid work that humans do better than machines—taking care of others, creating art, or building knowledge. What would schools’ role be in a society like that?

We’ll keep raising questions like these, and some new ones, in subsequent articles as this report kicks off a line of coverage on schools and the future of work.

Vol. 37, Issue 06, Page 1

Published in Print: September 27, 2017, as Taking a Long Look At Schools and Work


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