ST Education Forum

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By Ang Jing Han

“What jobs will be replaced in the next ten years by robots? If robots do our work, what can we do? If we have no work to do, what will we do?”

These are just some of the questions posed to the audience at the ST Education Forum: The Future of Work. Jointly organized by the Straits Times (ST) and Singapore Management University (SMU), the event was held on Saturday, with a keynote speech by Mr Ho Kwon Ping, chairman of SMU’s board of trustees and executive chairman of Banyan Tree Holdings. There was also a panelist discussion, featuring Mr Ho Kwon Ping, ST Senior Education Correspondent Sandra Davis, SMU president Arnoud de Meyer, Ms Nandini Jayaram, Google Asia-Pacific’s human resources lead for South-east Asia, and moderated by ST managing editor Fiona Chan. Schools from all over Singapore were invited, along with educators, Straits Times journalists, and other experts from relevant fields.

In his insightful keynote speech, Mr Ho addressed several relevant issues to the future of work; digital disruption, academic rigour translating into intellectual inflexibility, and the need for interdisciplinary teaching and learning. “Everyone… talks so much of digital disruption that it has become a cliche… the danger of cliches is that they stifle deeper questioning; beyond being told that disruption has hit us and that flexibility is the only way to survive, most people don’t have much else to say.” He also advertised SMU’s upcoming new interdisciplinary courses, to the audience’s amusement.

The panel discussion sparked a robust discussion on a variety of questions. Speaking on the issues of digital disruption and a highly unpredictable job market, the panelists all agreed that students should be open-minded about job prospects and to not be overly fixated on certain jobs. Jobs that were highly repetitive would soon be replaced by robots; in contrast, jobs like baby-sitters and baristas were much less likely to be replaced. In essence, jobs that required the “human touch” were not as greatly affected by technological disruption. Professor De Meyer went on to talk about how traditional degrees in language and the humanities might soon be in higher demand, bringing up the example of needing story writers in video game design. Moderator Fiona Chan concluded about youths and the future: “So, you’ll need specialized knowledge in your field, but also broad, interdisciplinary knowledge; community involvement, job experience, teamwork, innovation and creativity. I’m glad I’m not in the job market now.”

Other topics include the shift in University structures, and the aim to target adult learners who need to update themselves and learn new skills for the future. The forum did, indeed, give insight to the Future of Work and Education, as well as reinforce the competitiveness and unpredictability of the future job market.

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