I remembered as a boy watching Beyond 2000 and other scientific programs about robots, artificial intelligence and automation. I can say that those notions exist today rather than just in science fiction movies. We know that the needs of our workforce are forever changing and becoming more demanding. It is no secret that the future of work is changing due to technology and automation. We, here in Barbados, are not acting fast enough to update our system of education.
Eventually, automation will lead to the redefining of most occupations and their prerequisite skills. Are we doing enough to prepare future generations to thrive in this changing landscape throughout the world? Students that begin primary school today will graduate from university after 2030 and their careers will last through 2060 or beyond. While we cannot predict exactly what our workforce’s needs will be in the middle of the century, we already know that here, even in Barbados, they are changing and will continue to change with the rate of technological advancement in developed countries.
Teachers today are still teaching the exact same subject matter that I was taught over 28 years ago – subjects such as Reading, Mathematics, General Science, Health Science and Social Studies, with the exception of Information Technology, which is not adequately taught at most of our primary schools. I have yet to see the syllabus for this subject.
We can have debates on the future of education here in Barbados as it relates to the 11 Plus and other areas but embracing technology in the classroom and the way we teach it must be advocated and must be what we teach. Any discussion on the future of work should go hand-in-hand with a discussion on the future of a diverse curriculum that caters to every need of a child in this 21st Century.
Problem-solving, creative thinking, digital skills, and collaboration are needed more than ever in our primary schools. When schools teach technological skills, they focus on how to use technology – how to create a document or a presentation – rather than how to create technology. Some topics we teach today will no longer be essential in the 2030s: handwriting is becoming increasingly obsolete, complex arithmetic will no longer be done by hand, and the internet has replaced the need to memorize many basic facts. The information we need is at our fingertips.
We need to redefine our educational system at the foundation at our primary schools and have in place some of those evolutionary skills required to solve problems, to be creative thinkers and succeed through innovation.
The 11 Plus is a diagnostic tool and a means to capture a position on the educational ladder. At one point, it could have been seen more as a means of social segregation than even the pretense of any assessment of ability. The statement can be said that policymakers have benefitted from the very kind of education they now seek to deny young children. It can be said that some of these same policymakers and others in society exhibit hypocrisy today. Some of these policymakers send their own children to private schools or move to the catchment areas of successful public primary schools.
We need to prepare all students with the creative, collaborative and digital problem-solving skills of the future. Schools must teach computer science as part of their core curriculum in the primary setting. We need to expose our students to more computer skills, networking, and topics such as robotics. Learning computer science encourages creativity, problem-solving, ethics, and collaboration – skills which aren’t just important for technical careers in the developed world, but valuable for every career in all economies.
Education officials should discuss removing aspects of the curriculum of 20 years ago to make room for the curriculum of 2030. Computer Science shouldn’t be relegated to 40 minutes a week; it should also include robotics design contests, PowerPoint presentations and the design of e-books where students learn to create digital content.
We know that students are motivated by ‘real’ work and this ‘real’ work means what they create should have value outside of their classroom. Enabling students to publish their writings and create digital content will help connect learning in school to this digital part of their lives. A real-world approach can create lots of enthusiasm for students, as the connection to the real world is engaging and motivating for these young students daily.
Our schools should teach the curriculum of the future, not just the curriculum of the past. We need to join the ranks of those developed countries and embrace technology as part of our national curriculum here in Barbados. We have to stop playing this catch-up game and follow countries like the UK, Sweden, US and more to expand the number of contact hours students have to computer access.
Teaching computer science in schools may sound daunting but it is an idea that generates hope for our educational system. It will inspire teachers and definitely engage students even if some of the nation’s teachers don’t have experience in computer science and many schools lack properly connected computers and resources and poor internet.
The future of work may be uncertain in the years to come but there is one thing that is absolutely clear: computer science will be in greater demand than ever before and every student, in every school, should have access and an opportunity to learn it as part of a new diverse curriculum.
Nathaniel Boyce is an Educator.