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The Learning Success Blog

Jack Ma: Teach Soft Skills, Not Knowledge, to Compete with Machines

Posted by Peter Barnes on February 19, 2018 at 4:40 PM

Jack Ma robots replacing humans.png“Only by changing education can our children compete with machines.”  That’s what Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba believes.  Alibaba is China’s largest e-commerce company. On some measures it is bigger than Amazon.com.

Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Mr Ma said, “We cannot teach our kids to compete with machines.  Teachers must stop teaching knowledge. We have to teach something unique, so a machine can never catch up with us.”

Don’t teach knowledge based things from the past 200 years

He continued, “Education is a big challenge now.  If we don’t change the way we teach, we will be in big trouble in 30 years from now.  Because the way we teach, the things we teach our kids, are the things from the past 200 years – its knowledge based. We need to be teaching our children values, believing, independent thinking, teamwork, care for others...these are the soft parts. The knowledge will not teach you that.” 

“That’s why I think we should teach our kids sports, music, painting, art. Everything we teach should be different from machines.”  

Robots could replace 800 million jobs by 2030.

Is Jack Ma correct? Do we need to change the way we teach?

Some forecasts suggest robots, as they get smarter, might replace millions of jobs in the next decades. The global management consultancy, McKinsey & Co, has mapped out scenarios suggesting that up to 30 per cent, but more likely about 15 per cent, of current work could be displaced by automation by 2030 - potentially impacting as many as 800 million workers world-wide. 

Even if the forecasts are only partly right, it does seem that the world will be a very different place in the 2020s, 2030s and beyond.

If you doubt this, just read “The Inevitable – Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape our Future” by futurist Kevin Kelly. This book makes a compelling case that the technological, communications, artificial intelligence and robotics changes underway now will inevitably lead to a vastly different society.  And sooner than you think.

Machines will do things people won’t want to: mundane, dirty and dangerous jobs, as well as tasks we aren’t capable of – such as those involving too much data for a human to process.

The artificial intelligence embedded in these machines will be augmenting human performance and freeing us to concentrate on activities where humans are better than machines…activities requiring creativity, strategic thinking, empathy and other “soft skills”

No doubt some jobs will no longer be done by humans. But very likely there will be other jobs created. These new jobs will use our inherently human qualities.

Teaching in a world where most questions can be answered by Google

Are our schools teaching students to operate confidently in a world where the answer to most questions is as close as a Google search? Where vast amounts of knowledge are accessible via a mouse click or a tap on a screen? And where success in the future will depend more and more on our ability to use our human qualities?

Perhaps we need to move to a new education paradigm. One where we still teach essential basic skills like literacy and numeracy, plus the “soft skills” advocated by Jack Ma, and at the same time use technology to help students’ develop their brains to become better learners... so they can operate more easily in the emerging world of machines and artifical intelligence? 

That's all from me now, until next time, Peter.

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