How do we prepare children for the future in a fast-changing digital world?

Dr Nikos Savvas, chief executive and principal West Suffolk College Picture: WEST SUFFOLK COLLEGE

Dr Nikos Savvas, chief executive and principal West Suffolk College Picture: WEST SUFFOLK COLLEGE - Credit: Archant

Tackling that question is a daunting prospect – but also an incredible opportunity, writes Dr Nikos Savvas, principal of West Suffolk College.

Helping my daughters with their homework really reminds me that I am getting older. It's not the subjects they are studying in school; it is how differently we approach problems. Whereas, when I was growing up, I would have physically gone to a library and asked the librarian for help finding a book or an article to find the information, instinctively my children reach into their pockets for their phone or tablet to seek out the answers. This is their norm and entire generations are growing up doing exactly this.

Smart technology is now an integral and natural part of our lives. We absentmindedly swipe to access all kinds of information which previously would have been an effort to find. We check the weather in a foreign country ahead of our holiday and watch a YouTube video to pick up some key phrases in the language. Once there, we use apps to translate in real-time what we hear and read, and open maps which overlay key landmarks and give us reviews so we get local knowledge on where to go for lunch.

We can now communicate with anyone, anywhere in the world in real-time. My daughters will use messenger to video talk with my mother in Greece. Rural farmers in Zimbabwe are checking the stock exchange to decide the price of their sheep and five year olds in Norfolk are playing virtual reality games with their cousins in Canada.

Digital technology has transformed our lives, but what is mind-blowing is the pace of change. It is staggering that 12 years ago the iPhone didn't exist. In June 2007, Steve Jobs unveiled it to the world and I very much doubt even he could predict the revolution in communication it would spawn.

The digital age has exponentially expanded our ability to access information and has transformed our social interactions. It has redefined terms such as community - which had for millennia been bound by geography. It has given everyone with access to the internet a platform to voice and share their thoughts, feelings and opinions. The digital age has given birth to a self-publishing culture, giving assumed credibility to things published online and it can be really difficult even for the most discerning of readers to be able to unpick fact from fiction online.

We regularly hear about 'fake-news' and it is - rightly so - a hotly discussed topic. We have seen the effects of fake news on undermining people's trust in governments and how it can incite violence, but getting frustrated, naming and merely being aware of the issue isn't enough - we need is to come together to find a solution.

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I speak to so many parents and teachers who are concerned about the rapid change in technology as they see their kids adopting new technologies and apps, and though they speak to their kids about it; they struggle to know what they are referring to and they feel wholly unprepared to guide them in this new world. I share their fears and frustration.

As a parent, I want to be a 'village elder' who knows the way of things and the lurking dangers and to guide my kids to navigate through the world safely, but as the digital world and the real world are rapidly becoming one this is rewriting large chunks of my 'elder wisdom'.

We all know of the Dell Technologies recently published an article which noted that '85% of jobs that will exist in 2030 haven't even been invented yet'. That is both logical and mind-boggling. As a parent and as an educator, I need to know what I need to teach my kids and our young people to prepare them for the future - but how do we do that when the digital globalised life we live in now, will be drastically and unimaginably different in the very near future?

Tackling this question is a daunting prospect but it is also an incredible opportunity to rethink and make a real-impact on the future. Over my lifetime, technology has spurred on incredible innovations and automations which have changed entire industries and long-held ways of doing things, far beyond what could have been predicted. In my children's lifetime, I can only begin to fathom what the next leaps forward could look-like. 100 years ago cars and planes were new technologies that managed to transform the world both for the better and for the worst.

Technology will change the types of jobs we do, transform how we use the physical world as well as how and what we communicate, and it will challenge us to rethink moral issues and how we view the world. In order for people to not be left-behind with all this technological change, humans will need to nurture and develop their uniquely human characteristics and embrace the multitude of technological advances to carve out their place in this new world.

This is one of the biggest issues of our time and it requires the 'collective brain' of policy makers, businesses, educators and everyone in between. This issue is so important to so many people that on Friday 28 June 2019 experts from leading global tech companies - such as Apple, IBM, ARM, BT - will join chief policy makers including Amanda Spielman Ofsted's Chief Inspector and prominent names from the worlds of education, business, government and media to tackle this, and other big issues, around the theme of 'Human skills in a technological world'.

Speaking at the International Festival of Learning in Bury St Edmunds they will join a carefully curated full day of technology and non-technology thought leadership sessions, debates, Q&As and seminars for up to 1,000 festival guests.

The Festival's debate on how to understand the role of human skills in the digital world couldn't be more pertinent, both for me as a parent and for me as a leader of three educational institutions in the east. I am excited to hear the open and varied debates and discussions next week, and to hear about new digital technologies which will revolutionise our future.

My hope is we can use this knowledge to help support people to embrace the opportunities and amazing technologies that living, parenting and teaching in a digital era brings and to guide the next generations to achieve and succeed in the future, as our elders have done since time began.

If you would like to join and influence this debate the Festival is on 28 June 2019 - auspiciously only one day after the iPhone was launched twelve short years ago - to find out more about the Festival please visit the website

- Dr Nikos Savvas is Chief Executive of Eastern Colleges Group and a father of three children.

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