Microsoft Education Decoded

Sir Bob Geldof stresses education must be reinvented to arm next generations for future of internet-shaped economies


By Jessica Davies, News Editor

November 10, 2014 | 5 min read

A reinvention of education is needed to help arm the next generations with the tools to run future technology-driven economies, according to Sir Bob Geldof.

Speaking at Microsoft’s Future Decoded event in London today, the musician and campaigner described the fact that technology can keep people in constant and immediate touch with each other as “deeply strange”.

Yet he added that this technology-centric reality will continue to change how individuals and society as a whole behave and function, and that we must address this urgently in our education systems if we are to prepare for the future.

“We need to negotiate this because we are floundering," he said. "This [the internet] was the single greatest invention in the history of mankind, but it has so altered us in the last 25 years, that we live in not only in a moment of historic change but one of deep confusion."

While some believe that today’s “always on” culture will usher in a new form of hyper-connectivity, Geldof countered that the internet can in fact “suck the individuality out of people, and nations”.

He added: “What is shocking is that something we buy in the morning at 9am is old by 5pm. We are in the very early stages of a new way of being. And when the logic of society goes then the centre doesn’t hold. And so the economies of the world are in great flux, and the notions of the identity of the self and of nations are in great change.

“We are unsure of who we are and where we are going, but it is very late in the day, and we need to address it at a fundamental level,” he added.

He described the web as a “synaptic membrane” that spans the planet acting like a form of “collective consciousness” that anyone can tap into whenever they wish. “There are both potential dangers in that, as well as benefits – many of which we can’t yet even imagine.”

The importance of nurturing young talent to help deal with the enormous changes in how economies are run, will become ever more crucial in the coming years, according to Geldof. This will see western countries become ever more reliant on the influx of overseas workers to help meet the new demands of future economies.

"Our demographic is getting older, and we need more workers. The largest young population in a few years’ time will be in Africa – larger than China and India. Germany needs a constant influx of immigrants to keep its current economy going. Britain is already throwing up this hullabaloo about immigration, but we will need people to come here with these skills to deal with this new economy. And we have no plans to do it,” he said.

He urged educators to not become “over enamoured” with gadgets when future-proofing classrooms. “I’ve seen all the whizzbang stuff that comes up like the new white boards, and 3D displays in the classroom – so what? It’s almost distractive.

“A bored child in a classroom will remain bored, despite things like 3D-enabled lessons, because children that have grown up with things like 3D glasses will be used to them, and will still get bored…You can have all the toys on the planet but if the teacher is shit the lesson is shit.”

However, it is important that a fourth strand of literacy be added to the fundamental "three Rs" which are reading' writing and arithmatic – and that is coding, according to Geldof.

He later added that the world is in a period of “existential crisis” over issues such as over-population; unsustainable economic models; other countries “flexing their muscles”; newer ideologies, and the “medievalism combatting modernity”.

“It’s an interesting, and occasionally frightening time to be alive. And at times we are struck by the potential of what we can be, but we can only be it if our education system is right.”

He added that current generations are likely to never get past the “unsettling period” caused by so much change, but for young people the future road map will be exciting.

“But the only way for them to reinvent the world is with a different types of education – a kind of inclusive education – where they learn how and what these technologies do and what it means to us.

“What does it mean when we all connected all the time? When politics don’t deal with the actual realities of our situation - what does that mean to us as a society?

“There is something new coming down the track, and that new must be guided. You will still need teachers… but there is a new knowledge out there - it will be a different society, there will be different economies. And we need to deal with working out what those people need to build this other future.”

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