This is last of a series being penned by an eminent educationist Arun Kapur.
The ' Invisible Revolution' is happening around us in very subtle ways. We may not see the AI that has been trained to learn without being supervised getting better each day, nor the robots at Boston dynamics that are getting more agile each week, nor the gradual creep of automated tech in our everyday online lives. It is happening nevertheless. This series has examined a broad range of emerging technologies that have the potential for both good and bad. In this article, we discuss how to proactively prepare to face this newly dawning future. In this concluding piece, I would like to propose some solutions which I think can help us be well prepared to shape this invisible revolution. These include familiarising ourselves with the emerging technologies, and the need to nurture persons of substance who can emerge as leaders that embrace these changes in a way that harnesses their great positive potential.
Understanding the Technology
An important first step is to get to know the technology. How do these technologies work? Why is a resurgence happening now even though some of these technological concepts originated a long time ago? How is the technology self-learning? What are its shortcomings? How can we leverage our humanness to work with these technologies to augment our potential?
Since its introduction in 2020, Open AI’s GPT 3 grew in leaps and bounds. When it was released, it wasn’t half as good as it is today. What are the shortcomings of GPT 3? How did it get better? These questions made me explore the processes in detail and to my surprise, I came to know that it has learned to code as well. Nobody taught it but by scanning billions of publicly available websites and identifying the patterns, the algorithm learnt the basics of coding. Here is an excerpt from the New York Times:
“Much to the surprise of even the researchers who built the system, it could even write its own computer programs, though they were short and simple. Apparently, it had learned from an untold number of programs posted on the internet. So OpenAI went a step further, training a new system — Codex — on an enormous array of both prose and code.”
Here is also the more recently released Dall E, a powerful combination of text and images trained to generate images from text descriptions. I gave the following prompt to Dall E -A 3D render of an astronaut walking on Mars - and it came up with a few different images, one of which is shown below.
Changes in the Surrounding Socio-political Environment
What does this all mean for us, both as individuals and as a society? Will these tools augment our capabilities or will they replace us? The answer to this is not as straightforward as one may think. Ideally, they should augment our potential and help us be more productive and effective. But if we were to view it through the lens of the global workforce, the implications may become deeper. For example, imagine there are two countries whose economies rely on outsourcing software engineers and graphic designers. Do tools like Codex and Dall E now empower engineers and designers in these countries or will they empower employees in the countries who are reliant on these outsourced employees? Only time will tell but what we can do now is ensure we understand the basics of how these new technologies work and use it to our advantage, to augment our capabilities.
In the near future, new jobs which we have not even been conceived of yet will begin to emerge. Individuals will have the freedom to choose what they want to do and make a living out of their passions and interests. People will take up professions which they can do from home and earn a living out of it. What will be the consequences of these changes? Will there be a widespread loss of jobs owing to technological upheaval? Who will be the consumers of these services?
Another point where the current economic model falls short is the missing link between what happens at the point of production and the consumer. The government (or the consumer) cannot gauge the impact of their purchase on society. Thus, consumers are not able to make conscious decisions which are sustainable. A positive impact of emerging technology such as the blockchain is it has the potential to make the logistics process more transparent and this could result in better purchasing practices. Businesses themselves will be forced to move away from malpractices that are detrimental to the community and the environment. Many countries, including India, are making many of these records such as land deeds, diplomas, public distribution systems and much more on the blockchain.
A much debated and often touted solution to the loss of jobs owing to technology, and many other challenges, is universal basic income (UBI). The idea behind it is that governments will pay all citizens a set amount of money per month to cover their basic needs whilst they don’t have to work. In this context, those countries that embrace UBI are likely to be those that profit from technological change, tax the tech companies and provide a basic income to their citizens.
In addition to technological change, there are myriad other challenges underway around the world. Leaders of the future will have to be able to grapple with global concerns such as the climate crisis, displacement and mass migration, access to vaccines and basic health facilities, ever increasing global inequality, and war. Whether we like it or not we live in a highly interconnected world. The interconnections are so complex that it happens at multiple levels.
At the very wholistic level, humans are strongly entwined with nature. This is evident from the fact that climate change will affect nearly all countries. It will not judge whether you have never contributed to the problem or is a heavy contributor. At the next level, we are connected by our immediate geography. If only people really understood how a disruption to our neighbour would affect us as well. The next level would be interconnections between countries that are halfway across the world. A war in another part of the world could result in the cost of living going up in a different part of the world due to trade links and highly complex logistic chains that cannot be restructured easily, as we are currently witnessing with the crisis in Ukraine. We are so interconnected that there is no real insulation from a major event anywhere in the world. There is a need for us to understand the concept of this nuanced interdependence. This is a very important aspect of a future with a great deal of uncertainty.
Need for Leadership
We need leaders that can understand this nuance. This is an unavoidable consequence of being in a highly interdependent world. We need a great deal of vision, grit, and foresight to lead us through these uncertain times. We need persons of substance at the helm leading us through these trying times. People of Substance are emotionally resilient, socially collaborative, spiritually rooted, physically healthy and cerebrally knowledgeable about the interconnected nature of domains. People with vision are intellectually competent, mentally tough, and capable of zooming in and out to see the macro or micro as needed. People who can stand on their own feet. People who can build strong teams. People who listen and learn. People who can work with people of different cultures and personalities. People who can subordinate their ego to accomplish some larger objective. People who can fail and fail without losing hope. People who can be a source of strength and inspiration to those around them. People who have a strong moral compass, and do the right thing simply because it is the right thing to do.
Leaders rarely have the luxury of one size fits all solutions. An inclusive leader will have to be able to shape their leadership style to fit the needs of the people under their responsibility. They will have to be able to bring very different people together in very difficult situations. Where is this person or group of people you may ask? The responsibility falls upon each one of us to be a part of the solution. We need to reinvent ourselves by changing our mindset and thought processes. We need to make a concerted effort to become persons of substance in things that we do even if it feels inconsequential. It is not an easy task but we need to learn to be more holistic, more existential, and more purpose-driven.
We have an imperative to prepare our learners to thrive in a world where they have to be their own advocates. In an increasingly complex world, millennials have to master how to learn, unlearn and adapt to changing contexts. They are going to be exposed to more information than any of us could ever imagine. Our learners will be able to access content cheaply, quickly and immediately. The ability to synthesise, implement and adapt—to readily learn new skills—is important in whatever career you choose to pursue. Ultimately, the ability to be innovative, unconventional and entrepreneurial becomes the differentiator.
The Future of Work
It is clear that the world is going through unprecedented changes. Within these macro environments, there are major forces converging that will change the landscape of life as we know it in the decades to come. It is important to have a plan for how to respond to the changes happening in the workplace. It’s not enough to watch the trends unfold and hope for the best. Prepare for the future by educating yourself and exploring career options. The best way to do this is to look at the trends outlined and think about how they may affect your future. Inventory your skills, your experience, and your personal qualities. Think about how you can use these strengths to position yourself for a successful life. Then, arm yourself with that knowledge to create a plan for your future. Keep your options open. Don’t let yourself fall into the trap of thinking that you’re stuck and have no choice but to keep doing the same thing. If you do, you will become obsolete.
The changes we have talked about are going to impact how we work and what work means. It’s critical that we have a discussion about where we are going and how we get there. It’s essential to have a plan for how to respond to the changes happening in the workplace. Prepare for the future by educating yourself and exploring career options. The best way to do this is to look at the trends outlined and think about how they may affect your future. Think about how you can use your strengths to position yourself for a successful life. Then, arm yourself with that knowledge to create a plan for your future. It’s difficult to predict the future of work, but it’s easier to plan for what you know is changing. You can’t control all that is changing, but you can control how you react to it.
Nurturing Future Leaders:
As I mentioned at the outset of this series if four conditions are met, then the likelihood that you will thrive irrespective of any technological revolution is very high. These are:
1) Being a Person of Substance: A person of substance is someone who does the right thing simply because it is the right thing to do. Through the process of realising their potential, learners are able to cultivate what I call ‘Serene Strength’ – a state of being where all the minute elements of a person’s journey come together and help them develop into a ‘person of substance’. This does not mean that they have reached the end of their journey. Serene Strength is not a destination; it is a state in which people can achieve optimal growth and development and be the best version of themselves.
2) Being well grounded in the 5 Areas of Development :
Social, Emotional, Cerebral, Spiritual & Physical. Education is not just about learning but more importantly about helping a learner develop and recognize the Skills, Processes, and Watermarks that are necessary for self-actualization. Skills are mechanisms used to interpret, process and make sense of existing and new knowledge. Processes are the ways through which the learner acquires skills and knowledge. Watermarks are the impacts of the learning environment and experiences upon the character and values of a learner, which include integrity, compassion, rigour, and leadership. By orienting toward the development of Skills, Processes, and Watermarks, this learning process dissolves the silos around subjects taught in schools today and thus supports an interconnected view of all phenomena. The pace at which the world is changing and will change is unprecedented. During the Pandemic, we saw how quickly established norms of life disappeared. In times like this what we need are individuals who strive to be the best version of themselves and value integrity and the world around them, we need persons of substance. This is why the 5 AOD curriculum is as important as ever.
3) Being in active learning mode:
Be a natural & unstinting learner - so we always remain curious, and learn new skills and knowledge. Share your knowledge, skills and experiences openly & generously with others. Create & foster communities of all kinds - to share and learn from.
If we want to create and stay ahead of the curve meaningfully, we should be active lifelong learners, that is, we should take ownership of our learning and chart our course. In the schools that I have worked with, I encourage all learners – students, faculty and staff alike – to create roadmaps at the start of each year and at the start of every term.15 This practice helps them identify gaps in their skills and knowledge and encourages them to work towards minimising them. Clear, measurable goals are determined, with indicators of success and timelines built in. These roadmaps are the personal creations of each individual. They can, and in fact should, be changed as often as required. A static roadmap, even if it remains static only for a previously defined time-period, is not doing the work it was intended to. A truly effective roadmap has the flexibility to be changed often. Each time a synaptic leap takes place, it is time to review and restructure the learning plans.
4) Living in harmony with our environment:
Live in harmony with our environment. One of the most important challenges we are going to face will not come from technology per se, but from the merciless destruction of our environment. We need to get back to the basics and ensure that we restore a sense of balance - we need to cooperate rather than compete with nature.
Keep your options open. Don’t let yourself fall into the trap of thinking that you’re stuck and have no choice but to keep doing the same thing. If you do, you will become obsolete. Instead, use the new and exciting changes to position yourself for more growth and development. By becoming a more valuable employee, you will have more job options to choose from and a greater sense of security.
It’s critical that we have a discussion about where we are going and how we get there. We have an imperative to prepare our learners to thrive in a world where they have to be their own advocates. In an increasingly complex world, we have to learn how to learn and adapt to changing contexts - be agile. Learners are going to be exposed to more information than any of us could ever imagine. Our learners will access content cheaply, quickly and immediately. The ability to synthesise, implement and adapt—to readily learn new skills—is important in whatever career you choose to pursue. Ultimately, the ability to be innovative, unconventional and entrepreneurial becomes the differentiator.
Humans are capable of more than just jobs that require a routine, repetitive process. Humans are also capable of jobs that require creativity, intuition, thought and the ability to solve problems. This makes humans very adaptable and in the era of the 4th industrial revolution, adaptability will be very important. In the existing environment, learners get trained and get degrees. While this is an important step, it is not the final step in the learning process. Every learner needs to ask herself what she will do with this degree. This will be different for every learner. Ask yourself: Where do you want to go in life? What do you want to do with your life? How are you going to fit into this future world? There is a huge gap between the demand and supply of the right talent. The education sector and the business world need to be better attuned to each other’s needs. The business world is struggling to find the right talent while the education sector cannot prepare learners for the world of work.
In the schools that I am fortunate to lead, we follow the Five Areas of Development as the framework of our curriculum. The Five Areas that we emphasise that we ground all our students in are: Cerebral, Emotional, Physical, Social and Spiritual. We model and educate our learners to be the best versions of themselves. I believe our learners should be able to tune into a spectrum of these areas as they encounter various situations. For example, when a learner encounters an emotional setback, she should be able to utilise her physical, social and spiritual strengths to steer herself to a happier place. When a learner is blessed with the opportunity to engage in teamwork, she should be able to understand that it is not about what happens in the end, but about the journey together.
Our learners develop a vocabulary to express themselves, to self-reflect, to understand their emotions, to lead physically, to gather socially, to love and be loved spiritually. These are traits that are unique to humans. A machine does not care how another machine is feeling or socialise with other machines. The traits that make us humans should be leveraged to our advantage so that humans can make a positive impact on those areas while the machines are left to the massive data crunching that is required to solve some of our most pressing problems. The tasks that can be accomplished by a machine should be handled by machines, as they are excellent at this. The future will belong to those who can collaborate effectively with humans and machines by leveraging the traits that make us human. This is what will allow us to take advantage of the true potential of these emerging technologies.
As educators, let us be a part of that experience for our learners. For technology and digital innovations to work for our learners, we should not create technology-driven or digital-driven classrooms, we should create human-driven classrooms. And when human-driven engagement happens, learners will always be at the centre of the learning process.
Humans are the only species that can think and reason about their world, whilst cooperating flexibly in large numbers. So let’s not be afraid of the transition. Let’s be excited about what it might mean. Let’s embrace it, let’s think about it and let’s talk about it. The future of learning is about creating an ecosystem of learning that goes beyond the walls of the classrooms and is meaningful for the learner and the community. It is about creating the conditions for lifelong learning. It is about creating and managing knowledge in an environment that is fluid and ever-multiplying and that is collaboratively curated. Having a mindset of lifelong learning and adapting to changing contexts is critical. Knowledge is a great tool, but it is much more valuable when it is connected to a network of great ideas, when it is connected to other people, and when it is connected to practice. The time for silos is long gone. Let’s have a mindset of inquiry and collaboration. We need to work more closely with our communities, businesses, policymakers, and with each other. It’s never been easier to connect, but we need to take the time to do this effectively. Let’s continue to be the conveners of innovation and let’s see how we can realistically tackle the challenges we face.
“We learn not from our successes but from our failures, not from our full selves, but from our emptiness; not from our fullness but from our hunger” -unknown
Arun Kapur is an educator with over four decades of experience in the private and public education spheres. Arun currently leads initiatives at the Royal Academy, Pangbisa, Bhutan as its Director.
To read the previous article, click here!