Saturday, December 20, 2014

Global Workforce Crisis: Case For A Creative Education

Global Workforce Crisis is real, going by plain demographic numbers. The solutions available, immigration, offshoring and extending the retirement age, are politically difficult. The only available option is improving mass education, but there are entrenched interests, of power and privileges, that seeks to undermine the case for a good public education. If this does not make the problem look bad enough, there is more: It is not more of the same education that would solve the problem and we may need to think about the educational model as well.

This new educational model, I shall argue, needs to put creative and cultural education at the heart of the educational process, at all levels. Our current model of education assumes that culture is a rich man's thing, leaving out all the museum visits and piano lessons as expensive add-ons to schooling. Mass education, as we see it, is a rough-and-ready thing about literacy and numeracy, which will allow the pupils a shot at all the various process-based jobs. This thinking is particularly acute in the developing countries, who have benefitted greatly in the last two decades from the emergence of global workflows, which has created many such process-based jobs in these countries. 

But such offshoring was only a temporary solution to the Global Workforce Crisis, as we now see the convergence of globalisation and automation that is creating new kinds of opportunities. Automation is destroying the old jobs and creating new ones, but we are still educating people for the old jobs in the old ways. Educating more people like this isn't going to solve the problem, and these jobs are not going to come back just because there are more people available and wages would fall farther. The 'Crisis' is going to be worse not just because we just don't have enough numbers to fill the positions, but also because the numbers we have will be ready for work we don't any longer need.

The case for a mass provision of creative and cultural education is, therefore, urgent. In The Virtuous Circle: Why Creativity and Cultural Education Count (2014), John Sorrell et al define 'creative and cultural education' as education covering a range of disciplines, archeology, architecture and the built environment, archives, craft, dance, design, digital arts, drama and theatre, film and cinemas, galleries, heritage, libraries, literature, live performance, museums, music, poetry and the visual arts. Now, in a lot of places, that entire gamut of activities will be considered leisure rather than work, to be attended to when one is rich and successful: Till then, all children will be expected to study engineering and get some kind of programming job. The point missed is indeed that now the computers can generate a large part of the code (all the visual programming environments point to this) and we may not need as many programmers in the future, but a lot more people doing higher level of work, thinking about software architecture, design, user interfaces, business problem solving and communication. One needs these abilities over and above programming skills, and even an engineer/ programmer will be well served if they are exposed to the world of culture and communication.
 
I follow the work of Sorrell Foundation's Saturday Club in the UK with interest, which exposes young people to creative and cultural work using the available infrastructure in local institutions. This is a great model - low cost, inclusive access - which can be used to initiate more and more people to cultural education and open up their possibilities. While the public money support may be limited in developing nations, as their governments remain transfixed to the illusive possibility of outsourcing economy, such initiatives can indeed be funded as an outreach programme for an educational institution or a For-profit start-up initiative, structured around a freemium model. Indeed, this could be one big idea for all those seeking to create Employability programmes, as abilities to judge, create and communicate are central to twenty-first century employability, and an appropriate response to the Global Workforce Crisis.



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