There seems to be little doubt that advances in robotics and artificial intelligence are bringing radical change in all industries. Academics McAfee and Brynjolfsson call it the Second Machine Age,while Klaus Schwab of the World Economic Forum sees it as part of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Whatever it is called, it involves significant change. Many of those who work with education see what is known as STE(A)M learning as the best route forward.
My organisation, the education charity EDT, is involved in preparing young people for the challenges of future employment, encouraging them into industry, and providing them with the skills that will enable them to have rewarding and long-lasting careers. For the last 30 years the pressure has been to guide young people into STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects. Now we are understanding that STE(A)M learning, where the ‘A’ represents a recognition that young people need to have balanced exposure to the arts amid their STEM learning, is the best route if they are to thrive inthe fourth industrial revolution.
What is this all about? It is aimed at identifying the elements of human activity that it are hardest for machines to learn, and then focus on getting young people into jobs which use these traits alongside the necessary STEM skills.
The human abilities that are most difficult for machines to emulate are things like creativity, intuition, ingenuity, adaptability, entrepreneurialism, ethical thinking, collaboration, contextualisation,interpersonal skills, purpose, initiative, negotiation and empathy. The mosteffective employees in the future will be those who have a good and broadunderstanding of STEM subjects but have also developed these specifically humanskills and traits. Educationalists argue such skills can be most effectively bedeveloped by adding the study of creative and liberal arts into the curriculum.
The specific role of EDT is to put business and education together to enable young people to have first-hand experience of working in STEM industry and explore STEM in a commercial environment. By undertaking project work with employers, young people can employ the creativity, adaptability and other skills often associated with arts subjects that they have learned alongside the STEM subjects.
Like previous industrial revolutions, the fourth industrial revolution is likely to result in a vast expansion of new industries and new jobs. These new activities will require human employees with an understanding of traditional STEM subjects, closely combined with the specific human skills that have been honed and enhanced by STE(A)M learning, both at school and in further and higher education.
EDT mainly works with young people throughout their secondary school years and it is our belief that creative subjects, such as Design & Technology as well as arts subjects, should be included in a more balanced curriculum alongside STEM from the age of 11 right through to 18.
In general, we would be wary about too much STEM subject specialisation at school too early. The suggestion is that many jobs in the fourth industrial revolution will involve the melding of different STEM subjects, so a broad learning about all STEM areas is preferable.
A feature of the future is that learning will never be over: people will have to keep reinventing themselves and their skills. There will, however, be a continuing demand for the specifically human traits in new and undreamt-of jobs in equally undreamt-of industries.
STE(A)M learning is the best preparation that we can give young people for this dynamic future.