In a recent article, Education Week magazine asked ten professionals for their advice on “How to Prepare Students for Tomorrow’s Jobs.”
Now the first thing to note is that education is not primarily about getting a job. Education is about the formation of a human being. And, of course, the better you are as a human being (knoweldgeable, honest, personable) the better employee you’ll make no matter what you do.
But even so, many of the responses of these ostensible experts is interesting and probably a little bit of a surprise.
According to MIT Economist Paul Osterman, “It’s misguided to think today’s students will be unemployable if they aren’t all advanced computer programmers,” he said. “Focus on basic skills.”
Michael Chui, with the McKinsey Global Institute, says “not to believe anyone claiming they can accurately predict what jobs will still be around, or what precise skills students will need, in 15 years.” This is an implicit argument for a liberal arts education, since the whole point of such an education is to provide students with broad skills they can universally apply, along with a wide body of knowledge that will help them no matter what career they end up pursuing.
Stephen Wolfram, computer scientist and founder of Wolfram Research says “the most valuable traits moving forward will involve the curiosity to ask big questions, the drive to understand those questions deeply, and the knowledge about how to translate ideas into code.” In other words, basic general skills undergird more advanced skills.
According to James Paul Gee, Literacy Studies professor at Arizona State University, it’s not necessarily having the skill of manipulating data that is important, but the wisdom to know what to do with it that matters: “Schools need to focus on developing morally good people who can deal with complexity and collaborate with others to make things better,” Gee said. “That’s certainly better than saying, ‘Let’s prepare Johnny to program AI [artificial intelligence],’ when that AI will turn around and program Johnny right out of a job.”
Tess Posner, Executive director director of AI4All says that AI will affect everyone, it is a matter of the practical wisdom of how to use it: “Focus on applying artificial intelligence to human and social problems,” she says.
The general theme of the answers seems to be that it is not particular technical skills that will distinguish the employable person of the future, but rather it is having the wisdom to apply that technology that will matter most.
Not coincidentally, classical education is about wisdom and virtue; how, in the words of Thomas Aquinas, “to order things rightly.”