Skip to content
Skip to main content

About this free course

Become an OU student

Download this course

Share this free course

Looking globally: the future of education
Looking globally: the future of education

Start this free course now. Just create an account and sign in. Enrol and complete the course for a free statement of participation or digital badge if available.

3 Automation and education

A metal robot face seeming to grimace menancingly in front of a Victorian school building
Figure 2 Does technology threaten education, or should it be invited in?

Some people say that if you eliminate workers and people become unemployed or their wages fall, consumers will have less purchasing power to buy the products and services produced by the economy. As a result, there will be less and less demand. This links in with the reasoning behind human capital approaches to thinking about society covered in Week 2. In a recent interview, Martin Ford, the author of Rise of The Robots: Technology and The Threat of a Jobless Future (Ford, 2016), spoke about how, in the world that exists today, jobs and incomes are coupled together.

If you don’t have a job, you don’t have an income. It could be a utopian outcome if you had an income independently from a job. You wouldn’t have to work at something you didn’t enjoy, but you would still have income to participate in the economy and help drive economic growth and all those things that we need people to do.

(Ford, 2016)

Currently, a few countries are experimenting in this way; for example, Finland is experimenting with paying everyone a small wage regardless of whether they work or not (Guardian, 2017). You might feel that this is aligned more closely with a rights-based approach to viewing society, which could be extended to a capabilities approach if everyone in that society was encouraged to live as they wanted to live and develop the capabilities they needed for this existence (with or without paid employment).

One element that has traditionally been viewed as setting human beings apart from machines is that of creativity. Creativity does not only refer to artistic and craft-based work – although, of course, that plays a big part – but also activities that require lateral thinking and emotional responses. Research by NESTA (Bakhshi and Windsor, 2015) has shown that roles requiring skills that are uniquely human – like social intelligence, creativity or manual dexterity – are less likely to be automated. In a recent study, they found that 21% of US employment and 23% of UK employment requires people to be ‘highly creative.’ Ironically, these are generally jobs that are not particularly well remunerated financially at the current time. Creative jobs include artists, musicians, filmmakers and other craftspeople.

Other areas where it is difficult to see automation being widely used are in the care industries such as medicine and nursing – areas where it is important to respond to patients’ and clients’ physical and emotional needs. It will be interesting to see if anyone has reflected these thoughts in their posts to the gallery in Activity 3.

Activity 4 How does automation affect education?

Timing: Allow approximately 45 minutes

Read the blog post Creativity versus robots [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] (2014) to reflect on some perspectives on what automation might mean for society. Use your reading to stimulate reflection on the implications for education; firstly, for those involved in providing educational provision and, secondly, for those being educated.

Think about:

  • There are many types of employment in the education sector – make a list of 5–10 different roles.
  • Which of these roles in education do you think could be automated? Which roles could not? Consider the reasons for your choices. You may imagine new roles which result from automation.
  • How does thinking about the impact of automation on employment affect the purpose of education in preparing the next generation? You might also want to consider educational implications for those in work, including those in the education sector.

Optional further study

If you would like to read further about this issue, follow this link to skim through the report:

This expands on the thinking in the blog post in terms of implications for society and identifies five recommendations for policy makers (Bakhshi, H. & Windsor, G., 2015).