Future-proofing kids for the future

The rise of artificial intelligence (AI) and automated processes has led to some legitimate concerns that the robots are coming for our jobs.

Over a third of jobs in the UK were found to be at high risk of computerisation within the next 20 years, according to a report by Deloitte and Oxford University. From self-checkouts in supermarkets to drones assisting in everyday tasks, we can see both the threat and advantages associated with an automated world.

One in four Irish adults expect robots and AI to take over their jobs within the next six to 10 years, according to a recent Red C poll. That means that younger generations will face an even more challenging employment landscape as humans are replaced by machines across a range of industries and roles. The challenge now is to equip future generations with the skillsets to embrace and thrive in this new world, and to prepare them for jobs that don’t yet exist. 

Creativity, resilience and problem-solving have been identified as the key skills required to help children confidently embrace tasks, especially in the world of science, technology, engineering, arts and math (STEAM).

A creative mind

These skills aren’t only necessary to help individuals to thrive - they are essential in tackling the global challenges facing humanity such as climate change. To become the innovative problem-solvers of the future, children need to be equipped not only with scientific and technical skills, but also with the freedom to create and experiment.

So how can we encourage children to hone in on their creative side from an early age? Children need both the time and space for unstructured, imaginative play without disruption and guidance. A creative environment where children are encouraged to explore the world around them and take risks without the fear of failure is the ideal playground.

Painting, pretend play, music and drawing can awaken the creative side of children and open their eyes to the potential of STEAM learning. Yes, it may be a noisy mess but research shows that early experience with creative arts supports cognitive development and increases self-esteem.

The recently-held ESB Creative Techfest was a showcase of all that can be achieved by giving children the opportunity and environment to embrace their creative side while also learning new STEAM skills. More than 300 projects were submitted to this year’s festival, which celebrates the creations, inventions and inspirations of young people across the country in STEAM and digital creativity.

Tomorrow’s problem-solvers

The World Economic Forum identified complex problem-solving as the number one skill people will need to thrive in the workforce of the future. Children are born predisposed to problem-solving, with parents and the wider society playing a key role in helping them to turn their infinite capacity for wonder into strong and flexible problem-solvers.

Just like engineers, we should encourage children to follow a simple thought process when encountering a problem.

1. Think about it
2. Try it
3. Fix it
4. Share it

Problem-solving is learned through practice and it should be a joyful experience. Allowing children the chance to try (and fail!) at any task is encouraged. Baking, jigsaws or putting together IKEA furniture can test the mettle of many adults so why not let the kids try it?

And then there are the people who solved the problems that we never knew we had. Just think of how the late Steve Jobs transformed the way we now consume music, TV and the way we use our phones. A phone used to be just a phone. Now it’s our organiser, our alarm clock and our newspaper.

Jobs and other innovators did not solve these problems on their own. Collaboration was and still is key to any problem-solving task.

That is why events such as ESB Science Blast are so important. This non-competitive programme – aimed at fourth to sixth class primary school students – encourages the whole class to investigate the science behind a simple question about the world around them using scientific methods of discovery. They will then display their findings at a showcase event in Limerick, Belfast or Dublin in 2019.

Typical investigations include: ‘How can we make the best slime?’, ‘Why does cake go hard but biscuits go soft?’, ‘Where do waves come from?’, and ‘Can I charge my mobile device with a fruit?’ The success of the programme lies in getting children to investigate questions that they come up with themselves and which are relevant to their lives.

Today’s generations always worry about what lies ahead for the next. But we all have the opportunity to ensure that "generation tomorrow" will be best equipped to face and embrace any challenge.