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Our children are being trained to do jobs that robots and algorithms can already do

Britain's schools are unfit for the future our children face, says ITVs political editor Robert Peston


What concerns me is how unfit for purpose our schools are.

Our children are being trained with military dedication to do jobs that robots and algorithms can already do.

Obviously, everybody needs to be literate and numerate, simply to get the most out of life.

But jobs that rely heavily on literacy, numeracy, processing and analytical skills now require almost no human involvement.

Even if lots of those jobs – in administration, manufacturing and assorted services – are still done by humans, they won’t be for much longer.

Tasks that robots may never be able to do as well as humans are those that require creativity, emotional engagement, intuition.

This is the stuff of management, the media, the arts, scientific research, caring, hospitality, even politics – and for a while, also the creation of new algorithms and robots, although machine-learning is already empowering the robots to improve their own software.

What is profoundly shocking is that we have a school system almost entirely focused on compelling children to get the best possible grades in exams that themselves measure a very inadequate set of skills.

There is too little focus on encouraging creativity, flexible thinking, confidence, intuiting, empathising, the ability both to lead and work in a team, and acquiring the capacity to listen, observe and adapt.

We need a revolution, in which outcomes are measured much more in respect of whether students have acquired the fundamental skills to thrive in a changing world, to remake themselves as and when they want or employment circumstances demand, to be more self-reliant.

It is insane that we have an education system that would have been brilliant fifty years ago, when there were jobs for life. This system is laughably otiose when even our biggest employers baulk at the idea that they might be offering an implicit life-time contract.

I am a believer in the importance of elite institutions, because it is good not bad to help everyone make the most of their talents.

But they are cancerous when they become the vehicles for an oligarchy of the rich and powerful to maintain their privileges through the generations, and make it much harder for those from poorer backgrounds to thrive.

It is scandalous how useless Oxford and Cambridge are at taking the brightest and best from under-privileged backgrounds (only 3 % of their intake is from the poorest communities, compared with 11 % for universities on average, according to data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency).

They need to develop the kind of close relationships with state schools, especially those with disproportionate numbers of children from low-income families, that they have enjoyed with the Etons and Winchesters for centuries.

As for the Etons and Winchesters, they should be stripped of their charitable status and tax privileges – and then be told they can earn those privileges back if they prove beyond doubt that either within their own walls, or in collaboration with state schools, they are really making a difference to the prospects of disadvantaged students.

This article is an edited extract from Robert Peston’s book WTF?

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