So at least 45% of the jobs that our current students will do in the future don’t yet exist. One estimate puts the figure at 65%! The question is raised then as to what extent the education we are providing will prepare them for these non-existent jobs in the brave new world? A world which is not in the future but already here – since according to the World Economic Forum, “in many industries and countries, the most in-demand occupations or specialties did not exist 10 or even five years ago, and the pace of change is set to accelerate.” This cuts straight to the core question of What is it that makes people successful?
I’ve been interested in this question ever since I toyed with taking a job in an Independent School and since reading Matthew Syed’s book Bounce. Syed makes the convincing argument that ‘talent is a myth’; that people are not born great or born geniuses; that in fact, the evidence suggests that the so called ‘natural ability’ credited to many ‘great’ achievers can be attributed to purposeful practice (the 10,000 hour rule).
At the time that I read Bounce, my daughter was about 8 years old and had developed an interest in swimming. Before having children I was keen to invest in them in a way that I didn’t feel I had been as a child. I hadn’t had private coaching or been encouraged to develop in activities outside of those laid on at school. Partly finances prevented it. Though I did have piano lessons with my Granny (who had failed to pass Grade 1 herself – all credit to my brother Tim who on the back of the same musical education as me now plays the piano proficiently). I was insufficiently inspired and was permitted to give it up when I requested to do so.
I showed more promise in long distance running (I was Leicestershire county cross-country champion at 11 years old) but the local running club met on a Sunday which clashed with Church which was therefore a non-starter for my parents. I decided that I wanted my children to have the chance to excel in something since I felt I had always been an average all-rounder. So my wife and I decided to invest in one sport and one musical instrument with each of them.
We were carting my daughter to swimming club twice a week which was all we could reasonably manage since there was no pool especially ‘handy’. We gradually realised that she would not excel in an activity that she could only practice twice a week. Especially when she was competing against kids who were swimming 6 times a week or more. (I was not about to take her swimming at 5am every morning! Serious respect to those parents who are!) So we invested in a netball post for the garden instead. She loved netball and this was something she could practice daily. She is now Captain of her school team and a County player.
I had noticed private schools are set up to enable regular practice. The opportunity for regular/ daily practice in a variety of disciplines is right there on site. Swimming pools, golf courses, sport – written into the curriculum three afternoons per week, theatres, prep time, orchestra, jazz band, music tour, arts, dramatics, public speaking clubs and competitions, debating societies. All of these co-curricular or extra curricular opportunities provide students with the opportunity to practice and hone skills beyond the academic. Private schools seem to me to have grasped the fact that success is about so much more than academic achievement.
I am convinced that the teaching in private schools is in no way superior to the teaching in state schools. So why do between 50-90% of high earning jobs (depending on which job sector you look at) still go to privately educated people when only a mere 7% of the population are privately educated?
When I visited a private school, I was always taken aback by the confidence with which privately educated students talked to me: they made conversation, looked me in the eye, asked questions about me, knew how to put me at ease as a visitor, and how to navigate social situations with skill. These skills will be at least as significant to their future success as their academic achievement. Probably more so. They were not born with these skills they were learned and nurtured through a mixture of home and school. Of course, these students are ‘advantaged’ financially but there is no reason why any school in the country can’t invest in developing these skills and providing opportunity for their daily purposeful practice. Sir Peter Lampl, chair of the Sutton Trust, says, “As well as academic achievement, an independent education tends to develop essential skills such as confidence, articulacy and teamwork, which are vital to career success.”
My point is not about private education but about education needing to take seriously the development of young people’s EQ as well as their IQ; their emotional intelligence as well as their academic development. Daniel Goleman (Emotional Intelligence) states that the percentage of career success that can be traced back to IQ is between 4 and 10%! That’s all! IQ may open up certain career paths but progression within any career is largely down, he says, to imagination, joyfulness and social dexterity along with effort and practice.
Daniel Pink’s book A Whole New Mind is fascinating in exploring the evolving significance of Right brained thinking vs the rescinding significance of Left-brained thinking for the emerging job market in Economically Developed Countries. The Right brain is responsible for our creativity, emotion, empathy and artistry. The Left brain is responsible for our analysis, information processing and logic. In recent years Pink suggests we have entered a third industrial age. The first Industrial Age was built on manual labour – now replaced by automation and technology, the Information Age was built on knowledge and information (Left brain thinking)– but this is fast being outsourced either to computers or to a cheaper overseas workforce. In the new ‘Conceptual Age’ then, it is creation, design and empathy that matters – Right brain thinking.
But our schools and universities are still churning out graduates proficient in the Left brain skills of the Information Age. Our schools need to prepare young people for the new age by re-thinking the type of education we are providing and investing in developing the Right brained skills that will make the difference between success and failure for so many.
“In a world tossed by abundance, Asia and automation, in which L [Left brain] directed thinking remains necessary but no longer efficient we must become proficient in R [right brain] directed thinking and master aptitudes that are high concept and high touch. We must perform work that overseas knowledge workers can’t do cheaper, that computers can’t do faster and that satisfies the aesthetic, spiritual and emotional demands of a prosperous time.” (Daniel Pink).
More on this next time…