Every once in a while, a report comes out from a behemoth transnational organization that rings alarm bells, warning us about how the education system is not equipping young minds to meet the challenges of tomorrow. A lengthy document outlines the skills students will supposedly need to survive in a world of increasing volatility and ambiguity, skills that are more about mental agility and network influence than content and technical know-how. Creativity, lifelong learning, problem-solving, collaboration, critical thinking… [insert your random set of transversal skills here], which I will bundle up (for ease) into three words, future-ready skills.
No matter which skills specifically make up the list, the message remains: the only thing we can be certain about the world in 20 years is that AI will make millions of jobs obsolete because it will be more efficient and precise than humans. We tell ourselves that if we hang on to those essentially human qualities we believe distinguish us from computers, all those inaccessible realms that only conscious beings can access, we can safeguard our patch from the invasion of AI. Of course, there is no guarantee that any job we can think of today won’t be at risk of displacement by an algorithm that can communicate, create, collaborate, and make decisions better than any of us organic life forms. Without emotions of their own to distort judgment, algorithms will soon have better EQ than humans.
That’s not to suggest that the skills put forth by these reports won’t be the most important tools in our arsenal. They certainly seem more relevant to face the future than what traditional educational structures have been proposing for more than a century: knowledge retention, exam preparation, and compliance. When the OECD, the World Economic Forum, or the Gates Foundation put out their list of skills, the public’s ears perk up, tuned in to the preternatural credibility and intellectual weight of business leaders and semi-public officials. The warnings from Davos have an almost religious-like quality that permits us to question the old ways.
Future-ready skills most likely are what young minds will need to be successful. The problem is that almost no one is asking what success means, and for whom. Almost no one is challenging the idea that these skills lead to success primarily in the world of work. Almost no one recognizes that these new skills will just be applied to…