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'Teaching children about the new digitally-demanding world is now the most important thing schools can do'

With technology threatening to transform the employment landscape, we need to give pupils the resilience to face the challenges of tomorrow, writes one educationist

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With technology threatening to transform the employment landscape, we need to give pupils the resilience to face the challenges of tomorrow, writes one educationist

In his new book The Great Convergence, Richard Baldwin, professor of international economics at the Graduate Institute, Geneva, and president of the Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR), London, argues that ICT developments in the past few decades have brought us to the threshold of another "unbundling".

It is cheap and easy now to talk with some degree of intimacy to someone halfway around the world. Conveying knowledge digitally in detail and in bulk over great distances is straightforward, but the implications are far from simple.

Teaching in a world of frictionless communication has advantages: information is available instantaneously, in greater quantity and from manifold sources; and collaboration is possible with peers around the world.

The teacher’s role has become more nuanced – curating and critiquing information rather than retrieving and transmitting it.

Teaching and learning become more contingent and collaborative, but the need for expert teacher input becomes more urgent.

That said, our role as educators is not just to teach children in such a world; we need to teach them about that world.

Communities could be pulled apart

Professor Baldwin observes how ICT-driven globalisation unites people over great distances, but at the same time threatens to pull people apart even within their own communities.

The ability to outsource service functions in the information economy threatens to do to many white-collar jobs what the first round of deindustrialisation did to manufacturing.

Economies and societies will be hollowed out, leaving an hour-glass occupational structure – with highly paid specialist workers at one end and low-skill jobs in cleaning, catering and security at the other, and little in between.

Teaching about this world presents challenges.

Today’s students have had their social lives reconfigured by technology-enabled globalisation. But even as their social horizons have widened, their economic prospects seem to be narrowing.

Young people tend to be impressively global in their awareness and sensibility. Will this survive straitened economic circumstances?

Resilience, coupled with a critical understanding of their digitally-demanding world, are the most important things we can teach young people today.

Dr Kevin Stannard is the director of innovation and learning at the Girls' Day School Trust. He tweets as @KevinStannard1

For more columns by Kevin, visit his back catalogue

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