Preparing for the Future of Work Means Finding the Right Problems


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By Gautam Jaggi, Director at EY, Member of EYQ

An interview with Max Ventilla, CEO and Founder, AltSchool

Q: What knowledge and skills will people need in the future of work, and how can education prepare them for it?

Max Ventilla: There’s a hierarchy. At the bottom are facts and figures. Next are basic skills such as math and language. Above this is the “apex skill”: learning to learn. But to prepare for the future of work, the current generation of students will need to go beyond this. They will need a new apex skill: problem seeking and the ability to find the right problems to work on.

While creativity will command a premium in the future of work, it’s wrong to say that facts and figures are worthless. Creativity is directly related to facts and figures. You can’t get creative thoughts if you’ve done nothing but sit in a room isolated from the world, no matter how many skills you’ve practiced.

The bottom line is that educational systems need to equip students with all of the above: from facts and figures to apex skills.

Q: How are traditional educational systems misaligned with the future of work?

Max Ventilla: It’s not that schools are getting worse. They’re constantly getting better, but the goalposts are also moving up very quickly in terms of what’s required to prepare kids for the future.

Education is a complex challenge, and it’s becoming more complex. To make it manageable, schools have traditionally made simplifying assumptions: the future is going to be the same as the past; all 10-year-olds are the same; if you give this quiz at the end of the week, you’ll know what students have learned.

Such assumptions turn out to be mostly wrong. Students learn better through methods that are flexible and personalized. So, how do you enable this? You do it by introducing a game changer that gives you the flexibility you need in a complex educational environment: information technology.

This isn’t just about handing a child a tablet and walking away. To the contrary, at AltSchool, we focus exclusively on physical classrooms with professional educators. But technology sits at the base layer — allowing teachers to focus on coordination and leveraging what they do best.

Q: What’s your vision for the future of learning, and how do you plan to scale up the AltSchool approach to get there?

Max Ventilla: The first step — which takes years and enormous capital investment — is to build something transformative so you can actually have something meaningful to scale.

Once you’ve built this, the scaling happens in three phases. Phase one is opportunistic. The value you provide is primarily at the classroom level — say up to 100,000 students — and you are moving to the point where you start to have substantial network effects. In the second phase, the network effects start kicking in, but you are still a tiny fraction of the overall population in an incredibly fragmented K-12 education space. In the third phase, which may be twenty years away, we would scale up to millions, perhaps tens of millions, of students.

What we’re building at AltSchool isn’t about prescribing pedagogy. This isn’t about a common set of standards or curriculum — it’s about common practices enabled by common technologies and services. Think of it like a utility — a school uses our approach much as it uses broadband or electricity to support whatever experience it feels best serves its community.

A school might pay $100 per student annually for a certain set of services or $500 for a larger set of services. This is where the universal value proposition of technology gets transformative and exciting. Today, you can pay $100 for your mobile phone service and take advantage of something that cost hundreds of millions of dollars to build. Applying technology will allow us to do the same in education — provide something of tremendous value at a very low price. That’s revolutionary, because this a space that has never seen pooling of resources at scale outside of very narrow sectors like textbooks.

The future of education could be even more transformative for colleges and universities. At the primary and secondary level, school serves a dual purpose: preparing students for the future as well as providing daytime childcare for parents. But beyond the age of 18, one is no longer constrained by the childcare requirement. This opens up entirely different form factors beyond the traditional classroom setting. So, I think we’re going to see massive amounts of disruption in higher education: community colleges, universities, vocational training and professional training.

EY’s Innovation Realized 17 took place on 24–25 April and brought together over 250 corporate executives, chief innovation officers, disruptors and thinkers representing more than 20 countries and 20 sectors. We pushed participants beyond their comfort zone and opened their minds to unlock strategic, creative thinking on how to power radical growth in a global, digital world. Discover more.

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Education Is Broken. Here’s How Silicon Valley Plans To Fix It.

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