Jiva Technology

“I don’t do maths”

As a self confessed lover of Maths, I’ve never understood the ambivalence or outright hostility aroused by my favourite subject. And whilst I can’t support this with any hard evidence, it feels as though the situation is getting worse. People are running up the white flag before they’ve even started. I see too many parents smiling and saying, “I don’t do maths” and hear of too many teachers who haven’t been trained in maths who’ve been asked to step in at the critical early stages because there isn’t a trained maths teacher at hand. Some of our kids are literally taught that this is a subject you should fear. So why is this a problem? Its a problem for a simple reason: our whole society is built on a foundation of maths. Our banking and finance are based on maths, our tools and technology are based on maths our medicine and health is based on maths, business is based on maths, the internet is based on maths, government communication is based on maths. The future is based on maths. As Apollo 13 famously said, “Houston, we have a problem”. And we have a problem because the maths our society is based on is not complicated maths. Sure, they’ll be some of the tougher stuff in there, but the basics can take you a long way. Which means we have to start encouraging people to get a basic grasp of the most basic of subjects.

The first hour of the first day of the new school year shouldn’t be for the kids, it should be for the parents. Every head teacher should stand up and remind the parents of their duty to support and encourage their kids to learn maths at their own pace. And they should be reminded at every parents evening. Maths isn’t for the techies and the scientists and the engineers. Its for everyone. All the time.

Mid-life retraining

Most people think of education as something that happens to you early in life. You get an education, you get a job, you retire, you die. Proponents of education typically encourage students to get a better education at the start on the grounds that it leads to a better job, more money and a comfortable retirement. But increasing longevity is playing havoc with this thinking. If, as seems likely, current school leavers and graduates will be working into their 70’s, will the education and skills they gamer today be of any use in 50 years time. Just to reinforce that point, an 18 year old school leaver this year will likely still be working in 2069. It sounds like science fiction.

With robotics, artificial intelligence and massive medical advances on the near horizon, it frankly seems ridiculous to talk about arming todays school leavers with the skills they will need in the workplace. We have to be honest with each other and start recognising that gaining skills and education will happen at critical points in our lives and careers. Education will still be front loaded, but its not hard to envision a world where it becomes the norm to pick up new skills and new ideas in your mid-40’s, your mid-50’s or even in your mid-60’s. Japan, which in many respects is leading the demographic revolution associated with longevity encourages second careers as a way to stay healthy and engaged with society. The Japanese Government works hard to get over 60’s into work, particularly in community related jobs. In the US, Markle work hard to provide opportunities to re-skill or up-skill where workers find themselves at the sharp end of ¬†automation. Historically, automation has been a problem for blue collar jobs, but as an increasing number of white collar jobs disappear, organisations like Markle help people to build on existing skills, find new marketability in the workplace, becoming in effect ‘new collar’ workers.

These trends will continue, which means organisations like Markle are going to be vital in the future, but above all, we need to re-orient our education systems to normalise re-training, re-skilling or even taking existing skills and re-applying them. It says everything that there isn’t really a word for the latter.

None of us like to admit it, but skills and education have a shelf life. We all know that ten years down the road, most people would struggle to pass the exams they took as an 18 yo or a 21 yo. Experience, a refinement of the skills needed in the workplace and the addition of job related skills means its less important to be able to pass a final set of exams in economics (unless of course you’re an economist), but that should not blind us to the fact that the original flexibility we had as a new recruit disappears over time. The idea of creating specific programmes at our universities and colleges for supplementing our skills is an idea whose time has come. Perhaps its time that university web pages had fewer fresh faces on them to encourage a broader section of the workforce pick up new skills, perhaps its time to create a whole new category of courses, so that undergraduate and graduate programmes were joined by mid-career programmes.

Its time to end the obsession with going to university

The education system in the UK has become so fixated on the need for as many students as possible to go to university, that its becoming a danger to both universities and students alike. Starting with the Blair government, going to university was seen as an unequivocally good thing. Going to university meant more opportunity and higher wages, because in the past, people who went to university typically had higher wages etc. Little thought appears to be given to the fact that this might be true when 10-15% of the population had a university degree, but would it hold true when 50% of the population was going to uni.

Out went a fairly nuanced educational system where people chose from high quality trades qualifications, technical qualifications like HND and HNC and degree qualifications, to a point where schools seem only to talk about degrees as a sign of success. This has to change. Its not only the students who are going to suffer. Excessive student debt for a graduate with qualifications that don’t lead to a high paying job and mirrored by universities who’ve borrowed to expand facilities and growing demand. There is a real danger that we could end up with both students and institutions saddled with un payable debts. A modern economy needs a mixed workforce and a flexible educational system that allows good quality training for trades, technical and degree levels. There have been numerous reports pointing this out, but very little progress. The debacle over learn direct shows just how badly students are being let down. And its not just students, its employers who need people with the right skills to grow their business. The UK consistently fails to train enough doctors, nurses, engineers and computer programmers. It has done for years with out any indication that things will change. Instead, its left to individuals to ‘read the runes’ and head in the right direction. At the age of 18, that’s an incredibly tall order.

Its time for a change.

Science Gallery London

Anything that brings science to life or generates interest in a broader audience has to be a good thing. The scientific community are important in so many ways and its not simply a question of encouraging like minded students to adopt science at school, its about a broader dialogue between science and the general public. Our way of life depends on science, our continued existence will most likely depend on science. So the opening next year of Science Gallery London is an something to look forward to. Blending science, art and technology, the gallery has already started with pop up programmes at other venues before the main gallery gets going next year. Worth a look in my opinion.

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