The real role of education is to teach us to play


Earlier this year I gave the opening keynote at the annual thought leadership forum of Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand, with the conference this year titled “Future Proofing the Profession: Preparing Business Leaders and Finance Professionals for 2025”.

An interesting article titled The uncertain future of work reviewed some of the ideas presented by speakers at the event. On my session it reports:

Ross Dawson is a leading futurist, entrepreneur and strategy advisor. He sees relationships and creativity as essential attributes in the future working world, arguing that “human relationships, relating, understanding, empathy, engaging” are what sets us apart from machines. He says “the most important part of education is playing because it’s engaging with others, socialising”. Similarly, creativity is a particularly human attribute and Dawson is excited about the potential for education to foster thinking that can promote new ideas that “bring together things that have never been connected before and express that in a new way visually through words, through imagination, through arts”.

The ultimate capability is to combine capabilities. Imagine a world where computers support doctors’ decisions by scanning tens of thousands of articles to synthesise data, evidence, drug interactions and so on and then make a recommendation; the doctor’s specialisation and the computer’s complementary information, providing better, faster and more imaginative ways of solving problems.

The days when rote learning were useful – if they ever existed – are long gone. The role of education today is to foster our intrinsically human characteristics and capabilities. There is nothing more valuable than being able to play – with objects, with ideas, and with people.

Today’s schools – not to mention universities – do not teach us how to play, in fact they very actively stifle those capabilities. At very least they should allow our natural instincts of play to remain, far better they should teach us to play even better.

That is how humans will keep ahead of machines.