From a father and educator’s perspective, Leonard Stanley is here to give you some advice – whether it’s questions about school, your teenager, family life, expat life or if you just need a dad’s point of view. In Advice from Dad, he answers your tough questions and gets a parent’s perspective.
With 2019 just around the corner, our thoughts instinctively turn to what we can do to make ourselves better in the coming year. Grand ideas for New Year's resolutions, along with promises and pledges for a better, more gratifying life fill our minds as we envision an improved version of our current self. You know, that perfect someone who wakes up early to exercise and eats right while drinking less and reading more. However, if we are completely honest, we usually know how that ends up. New year, same you! People don't change because the calendar does; they change because they want to. Even more commonly, they change because they need to.
Which brings me to my point: the need for change. Recently, I have had many conversations with my junior school students and graduating seniors, as they attend college fairs and apply for universities in preparation for the next step of their lives. Anxiety is high as our young adults, who aspire to be contributing members of society, are uncertain about the world that awaits them. They seek advice on everything from how to pick the best school to the practicality of a college education. In the past, I have typically assuaged those fears with what I now realize are the same generic talking points. I tell them, of course, they should attend university. I say with confidence that they should find the program they feel is the right fit for them based on location, price and course of study. I tell them that the best way to ensure their success in this world is to get a college education. Lately, however, I am not so sure that is accurate. I realize now that we are not living in the world I grew up in, so why am I offering the same guidance I received? I've come to understand that as the world changes, so should my advice.
To try and figure out just how much the world is changing, you do not have to look very hard. Recently, Amazon launched its first cashier-less supermarkets across America, with 3,000 additional openings planned in the next two years. At the same time, Toyota has invested USD500 million into Uber's driverless automobile program. And, probably most indicative of the changing times, a highend auction house in NYC was the first of its kind to auction off a work of art created by an algorithm. These significant changes are right in front of our eyes, and it is hard not to be impressed by how quickly they are coming.
Fascinating as these developments are, however, they do have real-life consequences for our young people heading off to university. They reveal how automation is competing with human labor in ways not seen before. Sure, we have witnessed technology compete with manual labor before, but this time around, machines are doing the thinking. As automation becomes more ubiquitous, it will not only eliminate low-skilled manual labor but also threaten an increasingly-diverse range of employment types. So, in response to this inconvenient truth, I have had to slightly tailor my advice and encourage my students to look more critically at the world in which they are set to enter. Will the careers they are interested in be around in 20 years? Could they potentially be replaced by automation? Even more to the point, what programs do the universities they plan to give their parent's hard-earned money to have in place to prepare students for this reality?
No doubt this has caused some consternation among my young cohort, mainly because the answers to these questions are unknown. Even more pressing is the fact that we seem to be ignoring this situation. We no longer live in a world that guarantees if you study hard and complete university, that a job is waiting after graduation. We now live in the technological age of artificial intelligence and automation.
So, looking forward to the future, we need to better prepare our young adults for a life that will exist, instead of the one that does now. To do this, as parents and educators we must ask ourselves, "Are we merely recycling our parent's advice or are we actually preparing our children for a whole new world?"
[Cover image via Pexels]
Leonard Stanley was born and raised in Washington D.C., and has lived in Shanghai since 2009 with his wife and two young children Kyle (12) and Christopher (8). Leonard teaches Theory of Knowledge as well as Language & Literature at the Western International School of Shanghai.
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