Mark Lewis writes:
“In 1930, there was a lot of potential in the US public for improving skills through education. Most people were undereducated. They hadn’t reached their potential because they didn’t need to and were advised against it. Somewhere around the 1950s, kids were being told that they really needed to graduate from High School to find jobs. By the 1980s, you needed to go to college to get a good job. By 2000, college wasn’t seen as the key to the good jobs, it was the key to almost every job. We had moved into the information age and High School counselors were telling students that if they didn’t get some college they were doomed to lower-end jobs.
“One result of this is that the US is probably close to maxed out on education. There are inevitably some things that can happen to help certain students go further. There are definitely things that can be done to make the whole process more efficient. However, I don’t think this is an area of huge untapped potential. I don’t see any technology that is going to take current High School dropouts and turn them into Ph.D.s in STEM fields…
“I think the stories from the Occupy movement of people who had degrees and couldn’t find jobs are a parallel to the kid in the 1920s who was told to drop out of school and start working the farm. While it is easy to take a condescending view of the 20-somethings who racked up a whole bunch of debt majoring in some field from the Humanities and can’t find a job today, doing so is not only non-productive, it really isn’t fair. Those kids grew up being told that they should get a college degree in something they loved and that would get them a job. That advice has worked for decades. The people giving the advice didn’t lie, they simply didn’t have 20/20 foresight into the future. (Something it is impossible to blame people for.)
“There is a difference between today’s Occupiers and the unemployed farm hand of 1930 though, the unemployed farm hand had a lot of untapped potential when it came to education. The youth of today typically don’t. Yes, they could go learn something different to give them more desirable skills, but I fear that doesn’t scale the same way. Plus, many of these people chose the direction they went because they found that those other areas (which might be better for jobs) didn’t work well for them.” (link)
I mostly agree with the basic premise here. The only clarification I would add is the limiting factor may not be people’s intellectual capability but their interest and ambition. I actually have a lot of faith in people’s potential when properly educated. But harnessing one’s potential requires willpower and drive that may be in short supply.
In other words, there are probably lots of people who intellectually speaking could become STEM field Ph.D.s but never will, because they lack the desire to follow through with such a field of study. So the next educational challenges will not only be about transferring knowledge, but also about finding new ways to incentivize people and make the learning process fun. For this reason I expect future education to increasingly take the form of games. The educational problem could be seen as a game design problem.
However, the bottom line remains the same. We are probably not going to be able to address the upcoming automation revolution with education alone. And the previous industrial revolution may have limited lessons to teach us in terms of providing a blueprint for the way ahead.