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Arm Wrestling with AI
Self-Directed Education as a toolbox for the future

I recently read some news that made me thankful yet again for choosing Self Directed Education (SDE) for my children:

An insurance company in Japan replaced 34 actuarial-type employees, with Artificial Intelligence (AI).

Let’s think about that.

In mainstream education, math is one of the most valued academic ‘subjects’. The children who excel in it are almost idolised and often gain entrance into top tertiary institutions. Those who pursue business-world applications for their genius as accountants, actuaries, financial analysts, etc, are presumed to be headed for a guaranteed lucrative future.

Even in my enormous local network of unschoolers, homeschoolers, cottage schools and learning centres, the almost universal concern – along with literacy – is math.

“We can unschool everything but English and Math. They’re too important to leave to chance.”

How long before all our statistical analyses are completely automated in every field, and the only thing left for the human to do is the creative interpretation and socio-politically sensitive discussion of results?

Why does this make me grateful for Self-Directed Education in my family?

Because it’s very clear to me that initiative, confidence, creativity, adaptability, and the ability to navigate human social intricacies, will make a much bigger difference to my children’s future career opportunities than how good they are at math.

Children's lemonade stand

Children in SDE quickly pick up what I call ‘life level’ math, just through living. They learn how to count, calculate change, share things out, and develop logic, just through daily experience. Those with a passion for math read calculus textbooks like other kids read comics – you can’t stop them. But there’s zero time and morale wasted trying in vain to force a false mastery of algebra, just for the sake of it.

More than this, the whole event underlines the fact that we truly cannot imagine what future lies ahead.

The Nomura Research Institute predicts that almost half of all Japanese jobs may be automated by then! (Presumably including Data Analyst positions at the NRI itself!)

And that’s just on this planet. Let’s think a little further...

How, on Earth, can we prepare kids today for adult life on Mars?

The short answer is, we can’t. We can only guess what ‘subjects’ they will need.

However, we can be fairly certain that those who know how to learn in a flexible, self-directed way will be better able to learn and relearn what they need to know as things change and change again.

What will those 34 employees do now?

Those who rely on predictability and have learned to like being managed, might seek work at a similar company and stay employed... until the same happens again.

Those who have learned to wait to be told what to do, might sink into despair, unable to find new jobs.

Life-level math

Those with strong curiosity who know how to self-direct their own learning could overhaul their skill-set and set off on a completely new career path.

Those with intact playfulness and planfulness might start their own businesses.

Those who are highly sociable will be most likely to find some or other solution.

If my own children, grown, ever find themselves in a similar situation, I’m reasonably confident they will be just fine.

Instead of waiting for someone else to tell them what to do and show them the next step, they’ll have years and years of experience doing that for themselves.

They’ll be able to play with opportunity because their playfulness will remain intact.

They’ll curiously experiment and explore new options because their curiosity will be intact.

They’ll be able to make a plan, having cultivated their inborn planfulness.

Beat that, robot!