A Teen Perspective on The Future of Work and Education

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By Aqeel Camal

There is no doubt that the landscape of the world is changing at unprecedented rates. In the next 15 years 60% of jobs currently being studied for at university are likely to be automated or drastically changed. Those numbers may seem daunting, but it presents an incredible opportunity. We are living amidst a revolution, in which innovation and technologies are shifting the way industries, leaders and individuals interact. It is commoditising information in a way that empowers all of us with a wealth of opportunities. However, without the skills and experiences to help us understand the information and technology around us, we are at risk of being paralysed by our own progress. Schools in Australia at least are decades behind, loading students with information, rather than providing opportunities to develop valuable skills, experiences and connections. The narrative should not be around whether tech and innovation is going to lead to our unemployment, instead we should look towards how we can educate and prepare ourselves for the workforce of the future, in which technological advancements such as AI are central. I believe that all 7.5 billion people can bring value to our world, we just need to foster the right mindsets and environments to reach that potential.

“Knowledge is power. Information is liberating. Education is the premise of progress, in every society, in every family.” — Kofi Annan

You have to understand, knowledge is power

Knowledge is power, but knowledge without understanding is worthless. The power I’m referring to is not power over others, but power in one’s sense of self. Knowledge is much more accessible now than it was twenty years ago, you can become an ‘expert’ on almost anything by simply ‘googling’ it, collecting information and analysing it. However, without having the skills to sort through all that information and develop a coherent perspective we risk devaluing information and knowledge.

Some key stats on education in Australia:

  • around 35% of 15 year old students in Australia showed low proficiency in problem solving
  • 27% demonstrated low proficiency in digital literacy
  • 29% demonstrated low proficiency in financial literacy
  • analysis of 4.2 million job advertisements between 2012 and 2015 showed that demand for digital skills went up 212% over three years
  • critical thinking increased 158%
  • creativity increased 65%
  • presentation skills increased by 25%

There is a clear discrepancy between the demand for these skills and its presence in youth growing up today. These skills are not only key in gaining knowledge by sorting through the wealth of information available to us, but they are also fundamental intangibles driving changes in the workforce. I’ve been lucky enough to speak with some incredible leaders and innovators around the world, and for most of them their most valuable, influential experiences in guiding their success was gained out of the classroom. Pretty much all of those I have spoken to, who know about the current education system or have just been through it, say that the most in demand skills are some of the most underdeveloped in schools. Why is that? School’s shouldn’t be preparing students to be cogs in the machine, especially when the machine is irrefutable changing.

We don’t fail schools, schools fail us

I believe in the importance of taking ownership for your actions, but what happens when you’re brought up in a system built on the assumption that only some of us are good enough.

Jim Shelton, Director of Learning at the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative spoke of the importance of learning environments during his talk at TEDxPennsylvaniaAvenue. Shelton identified a study that placed students from the 50th percentile (based on SAT scores) in ideal personalised learning environments. The study found that those students out performed 98% of children in a classroom. Ultimately we have to look at the common denominator, if results like these can be proven, the blame shouldn’t be placed on each student that fails, but on a system that doesn’t empower us to reach our potential.

I love learning and value education so much, but the last time I think I truly enjoyed school was probably back in kindergarten and primary school. Where schools didn’t focus on the A’s on your report cards. Fostering a hostile, competitive and stressful learning environment as a result. It was a time when school was about doing what you loved, in an environment that was spontaneous and practical. Instead of learning pythagorus’s theorem, or memorising the structures of plants, we drew, saw and built the very things we learn’t about. I think the culture schools embody as we get older only stagnates our development in all its competitiveness and overload of information. I know I’ve been caught in that cycle of being driven solely by the letters on my report cards, and not the values or passions that drive me today.

Fostering the mindset of a changemaker

I honestly believe that young people around the world care about global issues and want to make an impact. There are so many misconceptions that we are apathetic, that we are lazy, that we can’t comprehend the value of loyalty, and so on. The reality is that we are living in a world with so much going around us, while being educated in a system that doesn’t facilitate the growth of our minds to tackle these problems with the technologies available to us. A system that only feeds us information, but not the skills or the practical experiences to go out there and take on these issues. Most importantly, we are brought up to believe we can’t enact change as a young person, and so we tend to sacrifice chasing our passions and exploring new ideas to simply play it safe and strive for those straight A’s instead.

We are living in a world that is changing every day at unprecedented rates through technology and innovation. A world where the commoditisation of information is increasing the value of skills, experiences and relationships. All of which help us navigate the information around us, and empower us to succeed through whatever path we choose. Young people want to work with purpose and make an impact. However, we are held back by an education that doesn’t provide us with the experiences that are going to be so key in driving our successes. We change the world everyday, but to change the world in a way that means something unfortunately takes more time than most of us have, and I just don’t have that level of patience. We are living in a time of unprecedented rates of innovation, so why aren’t we innovating the way we educate? Utilising both technological and 1-on-1/face-to-face mediums to empower us with relevant skills and experiences for the future of work in dynamic learning environments, while fostering a global community of young changemakers. Information is all around us, but harnessing that information as knowledge, requires a nexus of skills and experiences that are being neglected in schools today. We need to simply show each other doors to opportunities we may have never even knew existed, and empower each other by believing in the potential of young people around the world. Let’s not underestimate the power of knowledge, and the importance of education in ensuring that knowledge not only drives us to thrive as individuals, but also catalyse positive social change around the world.


Meet the author

Aqeel is the Founder and Chief Empowerment Officer here at Futures Collective. He is most passionate about helping young people unleash their full potential. Aqeel is the Executive Producer of TEDxYouth@Canberra, the AX Designer for TEDxCanberra and has worked closely with a number of not-for-profits. Aqeel founded Futures Collective to transform education to be an ecosystem of social change, and a catalyst for human creativity, intelligence and empathy in our rapidly innovating world. He loves to throw down ideas with friends, and is always on the lookout for great community events to go to. When he’s not sharing or listening to innovative and progressive ideas, Aqeel enjoys exploring the food and creative scenes in every city he goes to.