Sep 04, 2016

An Agenda for Educators

Snehal Shah

In Japan, if you enter a large departmental store in a busy tourist district, it is very likely a humanoid will usher you in and walk with you to address your shopping needs. In Germany, robots operate more than 90 per cent of the BMW plant’s assembly line. Futurists hasten to predict that a majority of the jobs that exist today may become obsolete in a span of 10 years. And the list goes on. So, if technology is substituting humans at a rapid pace and the current repertoire of skills do not measure up for future jobs, what role can educators play to ensure sustained relevance and impact?

Connect the dots from the past, present and the future

In the early 20th century, it was Henry Ford’s vision to produce cars on a massive scale, with simple design and at affordable prices. In those days when the privilege of owning a car was reserved for a chosen few, he aimed to “put the world on wheels”. With the invention of an assembly line, productivity and efficiency became the hallmark of mass production. While the benefits of such as a revolutionary technology are experienced even today, certain managerial issues had wide-reaching implications:

Since technology replaced humans, it meant massive layoffs of workers and craftsmen. The entire industry revolving around chariot-making, horse-rearing, and other ancillary activities was almost wiped out. New infrastructure to meet the demand for fuel, servicing and maintenance, including construction of roads, had to be planned and implemented.

This is the story from the past. If we fast-forward a hundred years to reflect on the introduction of electric cars and self-driving autos, surprisingly the challenges faced by managers of today are not very different. Perhaps the environment facing them may be more complex than in those days but the issues are still about worker layoffs, redundancy and developing new infrastructure. As educators, we can decipher these patterns to help navigate the future more effectively.

Augment thinking capacity

Recently it was in the news that IBM’s Watson – a natural language processing platform – beat champions of a highly intellectual quiz game called Jeopardy shown as a TV show in the US. If Watson can beat smart humans, how can humans stay ahead of the “artificially intelligent” counterpart?

Enhancing critical thinking skills, especially when the situation is characterised by ambiguity and uncertainty, is one important way to augment the human thinking capacity. Further, creativity and innovation skills are also seen to be crucial to succeed today and prepare us for the nature of work in the future. Research shows that these skills can be taught, to achieve the desired results. It is imperative for management institutes and educators to create curricula conducive to developing these skills through various interventions inside and outside the classrooms.

Emphasise holistic management of self & organisations

Humanoids can look like us, work like us but they cannot ‘feel’ like us. This sentiment seems to be one of the distinguishing factors between humans and the walking-talking computer. In other words, humans have to become more ‘humane’ to save themselves from extinction. At the heart of ‘humane-ness’ are the qualities of developing empathy, becoming compassionate and nurturing a perspective of oneness with other humans. A similar ideology needs to percolate through today’s organisations with a view not only to make profit but also pursue a higher purpose that will create meaningful value for all stakeholders.

There are several companies in India and elsewhere who have started walking this path. To enhance the impact of such a journey for individuals and organisations, it becomes important for educators to play a facilitative role through sharing and creating knowledge in this domain.

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