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'The pace of change in the economy might be scary for our students, but if we get education right, there should be nothing to fear'

The rise of the robots is often presented as a terrifying prospect for young people, writes one educationalist, but if we get education right, the technological future could prove to be a land of opportunity

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The rise of the robots is often presented as a terrifying prospect for young people, writes one educationalist, but if we get education right, the technological future could prove to be a land of opportunity

Technology and innovation; population and environmental change; urbanisation and globalisation; increasing inequality – all these are disrupting and influencing the demand for jobs and skills right now.

But more is to come. Governments around the world – including in this country – are deeply concerned about artificial intelligence and technological advancement that we will witness in the imminent future. This is no longer sci-fi.

In Britain, ministers worry, correctly, about the pressures on skills of these changes while they also deal with the impact of Brexit on the flow of trained and untrained labour.

All of this means the country needs to re-evaluate the skills employers and individuals will need, and update the education systems to deliver them.

At Pearson, where I work, we recently commissioned a report from Nesta and the Oxford Martin School, Employment in 2030. It painted an extraordinary picture of the impact technology will have when today’s pupils are working in tomorrow’s economy.

Cognitive skills, such as critical thinking, problem-solving, collaboration and teamwork are likely to be in greater demand while skills related to systems-oriented thinking (ie, the ability to recognise, understand, and act on complex sets of information such as judgment, decision-making, systems analysis and systems evaluation) will feature prominently.

Education, healthcare, and wider public sector occupations are likely to grow, as the overriding effect of technology is likely to be an improvement in performance, not a reduction in workforce.

The report was less pessimistic than others in relation to the negative impact of automation on future jobs, concluding that ‘far from being doomed by technology and other trends, many occupations have bright or open-ended employment prospects.”

Open-ended and flexible. That is the future. So what are we going to do about it?

Obviously, schools, colleges and higher education institutions are central to the answer. But not with their current way of working: change is needed. What change?

Perhaps the most important is offering more flexible and adaptive pathways for learners. We need to create environments that enable us to provide learners with a broad base of social and cognitive skills as well as academic knowledge. 

In addition, changes in society are driving up demand for Stem subject knowledge and skills at a time when we have an enormous shortage of Stem graduates. While the current focus on Stem is rightly associated with jobs in demand today, for success in the future, individuals will need to combine their Stem knowledge with problem-solving, collaboration and teamwork.

It is important we find new and interactive ways to engage students in Stem subjects.  One way to address this challenge is to start Stem teaching in early years, which should help further erode perceptions that these subjects are difficult.

The pace of change and technological advancement is accelerating, and our students will need to be prepared if they are to flourish.

They will need a love of learning, as well as better careers information and guidance, but most of all they will need a mindset and a skillset to thrive in a brave new world. If we get education right, it should be nothing to fear.

Cindy Rampersaud is senior vice-president for BTECs & apprenticeships at Pearson. On Monday, she is appearing at the International Festival of Learning at West Suffolk College in Bury St Edmunds. Tes is the media partner. Tickets are available at

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