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Emotional intelligence will save us from job automation

Haringey Stem Commission launches call for evidence into ways to prepare children for the future digital world

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Technical skills

Training children for jobs that require high emotional intelligence or technical skills will prevent them suffering from job automation in the future, experts have claimed.

During a Haringey Stem Commission meeting at the House of Lords, panellists discussed ways to improve science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) education to ensure employment opportunities in the future.

The panellists agreed that job automation as a result of technology will be a problem for future generations, and journalist Robert Peston claimed training children for jobs in creative or technical roles will help them avoid this issue.

“Both creative and technical [jobs] have the lowest probability of being automated,” he claimed. “They will be the two classes of employment that are likely to be impervious to the rise of the robots.”

Peston highlighted that children should learn emotional intelligence, which “robots would find difficult to replace”.

A recent study found that jobs with a low risk of automation are currently growing faster than at-risk jobs, indicating that the future generation should train for these low-risk jobs.

Peter Hyman, head teacher of School 21 – a school “designed for the 21st century” – claimed the way to do this is to shake up not only the UK curriculum, but how it is delivered and assessed.

Combined teaching for broader learning

According to Hyman, the UK education system is made up of “broken exam systems” in which only exam statistics are counted as important.

“You have got to have subjects combining at school; you can’t have narrow silos,” he said. “We are doing far too many exams at school, which stops you having the broader curriculum.”

His solution to this is teaching children “talking, questioning, debating, thinking”, but he claimed more creative skills like this are often under-estimated as a lot of children do not take creative subjects at GCSE level.

“Some 90% of all children in this country do no music, art or drama after the age of 14,” said Hyman. “There’s more need for these [subjects] at the point where 90% don’t do them.”

School 21 tries to address this by ensuring subjects are not siloed and requiring students and teachers to work on projects which involve more than one department, encouraging collaboration.

“You can’t sit them in rows and expect them to be problem solvers,” Hyman claimed. “School has got to become more exciting.”

Future-proofing the curriculum

In 2014, the UK government introduce a computing curriculum, making it mandatory for pupils between the ages of four and 16 to learn computing concepts such as computational thinking.  

But Katie O’Donovan, public policy and government relations manager at Google UK, highlighted that not only is computer science not covered well enough in basic teacher training, but that children and teachers are not trained to expect life-long learning.

O’Donovan claimed the UK is one of the most advanced digital economies in the world.

“Even if you are in a company for a long time your role will evolve,” she said. “We need a digitally literate workforce. We want a broad base of understanding that can be applied across all subjects.”

By adding art to the Stem curriculum, O’Donovan said students will learn the skills they need to become “stronger candidates for the workplace”.

Baroness Sally Morgan, chair of the Haringey Stem Commission, stated the commission would use the Christmas period to assess different schools’ approaches and attempt to ensure people are not being “educated for the past”.

“What we have been trying to do is look at how the workforce is changing,” she said.

Haringey Council leader Claire Kober expressed her enthusiasm for ensuring Haringey implements positive change to prepare young people for a digital future.

According to Kober, Haringey is a “borough of opportunity”, but has not yet fulfilled its potential.

She hopes to teach both students and teachers “the value of continuous career development” and focus on what needs to be done and who needs to be involved to find out why an “EQ” rather than “IQ” approach to teaching “does not scale” and change parents’ attitude towards a less traditional education and career route.

“If Stem is the future, let’s capitalise on an opportunity,” said Kober.

During the launch of Ada College, the college for digital skills, founders Mark Smith and Tom Fogdun highlighted the importance of utilising skilled people in the Tottenham and Haringey area.

The school aims to give pupils from less privileged backgrounds in Haringey digital skills and the opportunity to pursue a digital career.

Read more about Stem

  • The IT industry is facing a growing skills gap, so what does it think about the announcement of the Department for Education’s budget during the 2015 spending review and autumn statement?
  • Volunteer organisation Stemettes holds events in London and Dublin to encourage young women to take up Stem careers.

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The idea is worth kudos - it really is the way forward for tech and probably all of humanity. Still, I worry how it will be embraced in our anti-science, anti-knowledge times when "feels right" has become better than "is right" and truth is shunted aside as collateral damage.
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