“[D]evelopments in genetics, artificial intelligence, robotics, nanotechnology, 3D printing and biotechnology, to name just a few, are all building on and amplifying one another.” So states the recently-released report on jobs and skills by the World Economic Forum. It goes on to say that “the patterns of consumption, production and employment created by it [the combination of the aforementioned] also pose major challenges requiring proactive adaptation by corporations, governments and individuals.” We ought to add “teaching and learning” to that set of major challenges, not because the entire notion of teaching and learning will change, but because the traditional skills behind it are being challenged in new ways. Not only have technologies advanced, but, as the report makes plain, we are seeing contemporaneous changes in socio-economic, geopolitical, and demographic drivers that, rather than standing alone, tend to interconnect. The result is that industries are adjusting, and consequently, skill sets that were once required for success are undergoing metamorphosis in order to ensure relevance. Some people see this change as opportunity whilst others see it as the inevitable displacement of an entire workforce, yet the reality is that each industry exhibits specific challenges.
The report focusses on the notion of skills stability, and I can think of no better terminology to frame the changes that are afoot in teaching and learning in international schools (as well as other schools and systems). It is no secret that education tends to exhibit a pace of change best described as glacial, yet even that pace has been challenged in the past ten years. For my own part, I am keen to consider what the aforementioned changes mean for employment, skills, and, as a related function, recruitment of teachers.
The skills stability issue is occurring right now; it is not some putative future state. The report identifies the time period as 2015 to 2020. The growth of the middle class, notably in Asia yet also elsewhere, will mean increased job growth, which in turn will mean an increase in the demand for high-quality primary and secondary schooling. Given the aforementioned drivers, recruitment challenges and talent shortages have already begun to show themselves in other industries, and education is not far behind. Some would argue that we’re already there, in terms of feeling the effects. A worst-case scenario outlined in the report would be the intersection of technological change with the triumvirate of talent shortages, growing unemployment, and growing inequality. As Graham Brown-Martin stated eloquently at a recent ECIS conference (November 2015), technology will not replace teachers, but teachers who use technology effectively will replace those who don’t. That statement refers directly to this idea of skills stability, and it requires re-skilling and up-skilling of those education professionals already teaching in international schools as well as those about to enter it. Just because a newly-minted teacher has grown up as a digital native doesn’t mean that s/he knows how best to utilise technology in ways that result in enhanced learning. Given the growing need for teachers in the international schools sector (and in national systems), we cannot simply wait for the next generation to be better-equipped teachers.
So far, I see little evidence that we are trying to get ahead of the curve, and that should make us pause and reflect. To be fair, there is a certain level of concern currently, but it feels too simplistic: it is about numbers only (meaning number of teachers available to staff international schools). Numbers represent one piece of the equation, but they do not represent the entire equation. Nor does stocking the pipeline with new teachers; it too is but one part.
What is missing is a methodical approach to re-skilling and up-skilling across the full education sector. It is not a question of schools acting alone; everyone from associations to recruitment agencies should be involved in this approach, and there is equally a role for individual educators themselves, who must take a proactive approach to their own professional learning. One must also entertain whether governments can/should play a role in this regard, in terms of creating working environments whose structures promote and espouse this kind of attention to skills stability. We know that it is needed. As we contemplate the future of teaching jobs, the question is whether we will move quickly and decisively enough in order to ensure a vibrant teaching cadre in our schools for 2020 and beyond. It is on our doorstep.