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Education is about to undergo a major shift - and we must be ready for it

PUBLISHED: 15:00 16 February 2019 | UPDATED: 15:38 16 February 2019

Prof John Last from Norwich Universtity of the Arts (NUA) thinks arts education will becoming increasingly important as the use of technology grows. 
Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Prof John Last from Norwich Universtity of the Arts (NUA) thinks arts education will becoming increasingly important as the use of technology grows. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Archant Norfolk 2017

What we teach young people in the 2040s and beyond in Norwich’s schools, colleges and universities will reflect some significant changes in society and the job market over the next 20 years.

Prof John Last from Norwich Universtity of the Arts (NUA).
Picture: ANTONY KELLYProf John Last from Norwich Universtity of the Arts (NUA). Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Automation and the growing sophistication of artificial intelligence will change what we currently all see as valuable skills. For instance, moving goods or people from A to B is likely to become more the remit of driverless vehicles than human drivers. And jobs that involve trawling through or analysing large amounts of data – for example, legal clerks or data entry roles – are likely to be automated.

Being able to store facts in your head when your smart phone, smart watch or even glasses can give you an instant accurate answer will come to be seen as less important. Instead, we’ll be far more concerned with human creativity, critical-thinking, ingenuity and developing young people’s ability to imagine different ways of getting things done. It’s a shift from learning the answer to what, to learning the answer to why.

You can see signs of this already in how the creative arts and creativity are taking a central place in the education of young people in fast-growing economies in Asia and the Far East.

And this is not just my view or those of far eastern economic planners: when UNESCO mapped the impact of the creative industries around the world, they found one of the world’s fastest-growing sectors, influencing “income generation, job creation and export earnings. [They] can forge a better future for many countries around the globe”.

NUA Graduations Day, 2018.
Picture: ANTONY KELLYNUA Graduations Day, 2018. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Closer to home, when the UK’s innovation agency Nesta published the findings of research last November which looked at 35m job adverts, they concluded that “looking at 39 transferable skills, creativity is consistently identified as the most significant predictor for the likelihood of growth for an occupation between now and 2030”.

So, I predict that the current trend in UK education away from the arts will reverse in the coming decades as automation underlines that creativity is a prized human attribute. We won’t talk about binary divides between the arts and sciences, we’ll teach them in tandem as we look for creative innovation in all fields.

But one additional and essential change for this city, county and region is to lift aspirations and to view the future opportunities for our young people with confidence and optimism. There is nothing in our present or future that demands that East Anglia must have a relatively low wage, low skill economy compared to 100 miles down the A11 or 60 miles west across the A14.

Don’t fear automation - in whatever jobs they hold in the future our children and grandchildren will be working alongside bots and artificial intelligence. The educational challenge is to ensure they can be helped to be self-confident and that they can think, imagine and create in ways the bots cannot.

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