Predictions, Patience and Observation

I saw this article by Jamey Keaten in the Huffington Post titled Automation In The Workplace Means Machines Will Handle Half Of Tasks By 2025: Report. It basically says that automation will replace people at their jobs. So schools need to adjust right? I mean the future is happening right now so schools have to act right now! RIGHT!?!?! WE MUST CHANGE NOW!!!!!

OK, let’s take a step back, take a breath and look at this article (and others like it). The article claims (in the title) that half of all workplace tasks will be handled by automation. That is a pretty bold prediction right there. They don’t define what a “task” is nor do they offer what is a “workplace”. In fact, there are very little details that give any actual example. It turns out this is just a prediction. I have a problem with this prediction and others like but I’ll talk about that later.

Educational Impact

So, if you’re in a school should you be pushing for more coding, more robotics, more maker space opportunities to better prepare your students for this future? Well yes and no! You want more and better opportunities for your students. These particular areas challenge students to think creatively, critically and help build good team skills which in turn helps them learn how to communicate better with their peers and others. Nice – but that should be the push behind it not because an article says that this is the future. A less informed person may ask the question “Should these classes be mandatory?”

I personally don’t think so. You must remember that there are only so many hours in a school day and to make a new subject mandatory it must push something else out in order to make space. So what goes? Certainly not a core subject (English, History/Social Studies, Math, Science). So that leaves Physical Education, Art, Music and World Languages. So which one would you remove? Leave your comments below

I see the importance of coding and so forth but I just cannot pick another class or subject and say “Yep! That’s the weak link in our school. It’s time to replace it with something new!” It just doesn’t make sense.

Saying that every student needs to learn coding or robotics may sound progressive and forward thinking but I believe that it is usually a statement that is not fully thought out or that someone has not considered how it would impact the school itself.

Computers, systems and databases are getting simpler and easier for the common user. Computers are a great example. Computer operating systems have been becoming easier and easier to use. While they still have their head scratching moments (like the the Control Panel and the Settings page in Windows 10). Windows 10 is certainly a lot easier to find files, use programs and navigate than Windows 3.1 or even Mac 7.0.1. The point here is that computer interfaces are becoming easier and easier to use. The need to dive under-the-hood to fix something is becoming less and less necessary.

A lot people argue that students need to know how to code to learn how to build something. Sure, you can certainly accomplish that with coding, but you can also accomplish that with video or image editing software, a project art class, an experiment in a science lab or in just about any other class. One does not need coding to create or problem solve. There are countless other ways that children can learn to create, think critically and problem solve. Coding is just one way to go.

Prediction problem

Now back to the prediction in the article and the problem I have with it. These articles are written with such an air of authority that how could anyone deny this is coming? How could this possibly not happen? It makes people jump up and want to take action. People like educators, parents, students and policy makers.

Let us not forget this is a prediction and nothing more. Predictions have been wrong before. Now let’s talk about what is wrong with this article and its very confident prediction.

I already mentioned the lack of details of what a task is and what a workspace is. Nor does it give a specific case of this happening. For example, saying that McDonald’s self-ordering Kiosk that will eliminate a traditional cashier position.

Now back to what is a task. This could be any type of action. Turning on and off a light. That is a task. A lot of schools already use motion sensors to perform this task. Does it replace an employee? No, in fact it actually creates some jobs for others outside of the school. How about using a card to unlock a door at your school?

At our school the parent/teacher conferences is now automated as we use an online service but this actually creates a little more work for the IT department as we set up the system, but it saves a lot of work for our teachers which is great. Again, no one loses their job.

So if this article is talking about these types of tasks I can agree that in less than a decade a lot of basic tasks could be automated. Would I go so far to say 50% will be automated? No, I think that is a little ridiculous. So at school are we teaching our students “tasks”? Sure, but that is a quick skill and nothing more. We don’t have light switch class offered in middle school. We do, however, encourage students to turn off the lights in rooms no one is in to save electricity.

Conclusion

Be critical of these articles (and of this one!) Think about what they are talking about and proposing and then see if it makes sense. Look at around your world, be observant and see if those predictions really seem like they could come to fruition. Driverless cars are a good example. Some have said that there will be plenty on the road by 2020. That is less than two years away. Does it seem that way to you? Has their been legislation passed to allow the everyday driver the ability to purchase these cars? Can it navigate through a dense urban environment? Has the ethical issues and the industry issues been tackled?

Virtual reality and augmented reality (sometimes referred to as mixed reality) was supposed to take the world be storm. Well, they are here and most people, most schools, most businesses and industries rarely use it, or use it meaningfully.

I am merely saying that predictions do not always go the way people have predicted them to go. Don’t be so eager to believe a prediction (regardless of where it comes from) and react to every headline, news report, blog or discussion around the water cooler.

About Patrick Cauley

I teach middle school technology and love to play around with tech and teach students and colleagues alike. You can read my blog at www.itbabble.com
This entry was posted in Opinion, Patrick Cauley and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Predictions, Patience and Observation

  1. Pingback: Episode 158 – Trends? Maybe not | Technology in the Classroom

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