18 November 2020

Adapting to the emerging future through continuous learning: What knowledge, skills and capabilities do we need? How do we deliver with substance? Session 5

Chair: Mr Emerson Csorba

On 18 November, Ditchley convened a Transatlantic group as part of its work on continuous learning and the renewal of democracies. The main takeaways from this session were as follows:

Time for a complete rethink? Wealth creation in emerging sectors does not always equate to more jobs.  Similarly, job creation does not always require those positions to be highly skilled.    This means there has been continued polarisation between the well-educated and the disadvantaged. There are huge gaps to address, for example in digital literacy - prevalent pre Covid 19.   

If we want to prepare citizens for a different world, one which requires critical and independent thinking - for example - then do we need to educate differently?  Do we need a new curriculum? The purpose of education shouldn’t be to prepare students for university, but rather citizens for life. The difference between these two approaches is stark. 

Regulating in a digital world.  The digital world plays an ever-increasing role in all aspects of life post pandemic. However, regulation of this world has not kept pace with its role in our lives.  In a climate of declining trust in leaders, growing disinformation and conspiracy theories, the 24-hour news cycle leaves no time for  filtering, fact checking and analysis. Conspiracy theories are becoming more prevalent and difficult to confront.  

One of the most worrying gaps can be seen in the reality of a new ‘digital citizenship’ where the behaviours, ethics and morals displayed by individuals online vastly differ from those offline. Misuse of personal data, abuse and hateful speech make the case for further and urgent regulation. Education can play an important role in reinforcing the truth. 

The labour market determines continuous learning.  The role of HE and FE is to prepare people for the labour market, not for lifelong learning.  Currently the need to upskill exists when you want to change career - for example - and the odds are stacked (and growing) against chunks of the population who are not in work or in education.  

One solution could be to look at universal basic income which would allow individuals the capacity, both financially and psychologically, to turn to learning as an option back into work. Employers are now driving diversity and businesses are taking initiatives before government proposals come out - both are good for the labour market and for lifelong learning. 

What makes for a good job?  There has been a scaring effect of the shift to digital working and working from home which has left people feeling low and negatively impacted.  As a way of responding to the changes of past and future, it’s not just about jobs; it’s about motivation and healthy minds too.  Soft skills should not be underestimated – online learning has seen students becoming more passive learners which we should work quickly to reverse. 

Back to basics.  There has been a seismic shift in how societies think.  We have seen the erosion of traditional pillars of our communities – church, for example - and trust in institutions. However, this year we have seen communities coming together all over the UK during the pandemic. Work and the educational pathways leading into and through work are our best defence against threats to democratic ways of life but we also need to keep investing in  grassroots change. 

In addition to Emerson Csorba  and Natasha Whitmill from Ditchley, participants in this session included:

Rachel Carey, Chief Scientist at Zinc, where her work focuses on maximising the R&D potential of new start-ups – grounding them in evidence and facilitating collaborative opportunities with researchers. She is a UKRI Future Leaders Fellow. 

Hannah Coggins, Final-year student, Politics and International Relations, University of Nottingham. Participant in Ditchley's Summer Intern Programme

Matt Godwin, recently returned to UK to take up a post at the House of Lords on issues related to antisemitism, the Middle East and inclusive growth. 

Connor Lyons, Manager in the Strategy & Corporate Finance group at Power Corporation of Canada. 

Carl Miller, co-founded the Centre for the Analysis of Social Media at Demos, the first UK think tank institute dedicated to studying the digital world.

Anna Morrison CBE, Director and owner of Amazing Apprenticeships, an organisation that creates and publishes a range of inspirational and interactive resources to support teachers, students, parents and employers to understand the range of apprenticeships available and to help them to feel confident and informed about the next steps to take.

Matt Robb, Lead partner for EY-Parthenon in the UK and also leads the Education Practice in Europe. 

Ian Wilkinson, Managing Director of Cotswold Seeds and Founder of FarmED.