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The Future of Education Part 1: The Hard Truths

At Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity this year I was asked to talk about the Future of Education. But there was one catch, I was constrained to an 18 month time horizon. What a tough brief; the education systems of most of our countries haven’t changed for over 100 years! If Education was a company it would be branded a dinosaur and would be out of business in those 18 months. In this two part article I look first at some of the problems in our education system and then some of the trends that give me hope.

In the UK, the future of our education system in the next 18 months is bleak. Government cuts have left our schools £2bn worse off in the last 2 years, decimating our schools and forcing them to slash their budgets to the bare bones. Leadership of the schools are left weighing up terrible choices such as how to feed vulnerable children not eligible for free school meals or how many chairs they need to sell to pay for books.

As a result of the funding cuts schools are narrowing in on the subjects they teach focusing on the EBacc subjects and dropping peripheral subjects such as vocationals and the arts that are really important for the wellbeing of our kids and those that are not academic. There’s a dangerous movement towards academic subjects being the only marker of a child’s intelligence which is hugely detrimental to our society as Ken Robinson articulates so well in his famous Ted Talk Do Schools Kill Creativity.

This is going to pose huge problems for our industry (Marketing and Advertising). As a result of the EBacc there’s a steep decline in the number of kids doing Design, Arts, Computing GCSE and A-Levels. Already The Edge Foundation and techUK stated there were an estimated 600,000 tech vacancies in the UK in 2018, a figure predicted to reach 1 million by 2020 due to skills shortages. Combine this with a lack of visibility of our sector highlighted by this recent report from Marketing Week where only 3% of 18-24 year olds thought that Marketing offered decent career opportunities and I think we have a serious problem looming.

If you layer over this the rise of Artificial Intelligence making many jobs obsolete, the picture starts to get even bleaker. The skills most needed to fill the gaps we have and allow our kids to stay ahead of the robots – the creative, technical, practical, critical thinking, problem solving skills - are not the skills we’re teaching in schools as Jack Ma, Alibaba CEO calls out in this clip from the World Economic Forum. 65% of children entering primary school today will ultimately end up working in completely new job types that aren’t on our radar yet according to The Future of Jobs by the World Economic Forum and as I’ve highlighted here that the current education system is not doing a great job of preparing them for the jobs of today let alone the jobs of tomorrow.

In the UK over the next 18 months we will start to see the impact of Gove’s widely criticised reforms really take hold particularly making GCSE and A-Levels 100% exam based, much harder and with an increased syllabus. This will put even more pressure on children especially those who don’t perform well in exams and anxiety levels and mental health issues will continue to rise. I watch my 5 year old struggling with spelling tests and getting upset when he doesn’t score well and I can’t help wondering what we’re doing, especially when compared to Finland where they don’t start school till 7 years old (and then only for a few hours a day) and their drop out rate is minimal and their outcomes are the best in the world. 

Ken Robinson had a powerful quote in his talk that’s stuck with me:

“Our education system mines the minds of our children for a particular commodity, the way we’ve stripped mined the earth. We have to rethink the fundamental principles and start educating the whole being and celebrate the richness of capacity”

If you’re not angry, frightened or sad then go and watch some of Ken Robinson’s Ted Talks and come back and we can discuss it over a coffee. In my next article I will tell you about some of the trends that are emerging in schools which give me hope for the future and what you can do to accelerate the pace of change. 

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