Continuous learning is the goal

According to a global report, in the next ten years, about 300 million workers will lose their job due to automation. Most jobs that require labor will be completely replaced by machines. Office jobs dealing with data processing such as accounting, banking, finance, and paperwork processing will also be replaced by artificial intelligence software.

The report warned that in order to keep their job, all workers must be re-trained in different fields, mostly technical, else they will be unemployed for the rest of their lives. The concept of people go to school for the first 20 years of their life and work for the next 40 years in one job is completely obsolete. Therefore, the education system must be redesigned completely to promote continuous learning and training throughout the life of a person. The current education system that focuses on passing tests and getting a degree will NOT work in a job market where knowledge and skills are valued over degrees, and soon most companies will hire employees based on their skill needs, not on the degree that the school issued.

Despite this challenge, many education systems remain idle or slow to change which prompt students to either move to different education systems or leaving a country to seek their training in other places. While technology changes many things, and destroy many jobs, it also creates many new ones and currently, there are more opening technical jobs than the supply. Fifty years ago, the introduction of Personal Computers had eliminated some jobs, it created much more jobs later and even created a new industry that is booming today. Workers who were willing to learn new computing skills were able to find new jobs and better-paid jobs. For example, software is one of the highest paying jobs today. Despite the threat of robots are taking many manufacturing jobs and many works are being automated, there is a severe shortage of technical jobs such as robots builders and robots repair jobs. Most of these jobs are all higher paid than the ones that they replaced. Last month, a robot company’s executive declared: “There will be enough jobs for everyone in the next ten years if they either study robotics or learn to be robots repair technician.”

The change in the global job market will be a major challenge for many developing countries, as well as China and India with a large population of unemployed young people with minimum education training due to their archaic education systems. Today many of their manufactures and factories are being automated, huge numbers of workers are being laid-off , their education systems remain indifferent without any sign of changing. Sooner or later, every job will require some technical knowledge and skills, and the education system will have to change but how can we change the thinking of students from passing exams, getting a degree to become lifelong learners?

A few years ago, when I teaching in Asia, I raised the issue of continuous learning but facing questions from students: “What do you mean we have to learn more after having a degree?” “Why I need to study after having a job?”, “I spend 20 years in school already and almost finish this burden but you tell me that I have to study again?” I explained: “Technology changes fast, what you know now may not be needed in the future. Many jobs will be replaced by smarter, better software. Having some knowledge is not enough but you will have to keep current with the changes. What you need is to become lifelong learners, each time some skills are obsolete, you must learn a new skill in order to keep your job. However, to many students, education is a “burden” that they must endure for many years and the concept of continuous learning is something that they could not accept. One student emotionally told me: “Do you know how much time I have to spend to study in a day? Do you know how many exams I have to pass to reach this stage of education? Do you know how much my family has to suffer to support me and now I am almost graduate then you tell me that I will have to learn more, study more? Are you out of your mind?”

How can you convince both students and teachers that their education system of “transferring knowledge with many tests, exams to determine qualification in certain levels then stop learning when they reach a certain level.” Must change into a new system of continuous learning and never stops? How can you convince students that they must develop the ability to learn and adapt to the changing of the global demands? How do you convince teachers that their roles must move from “teaching and testing students” to “guiding and supporting” students on their own continuous learning?


  • Blogs of Prof. John Vu, Carnegie Mellon University