Future of Work and Education: How We Can Achieve Meaning and Purpose in the Face of Technological Disruptions

20 October 2020
Feature

SPEN spoke with Dr. Mark Baildon, Associate Dean at the Office of Educational Research, and Associate Professor in Humanities and Social Studies Education at the National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University, to discuss his work on the role of meaning and purpose and the relevance of this for Singapore schools.

Dr Mark Baildon’s research study, Purpose and Meaning for Singaporean Society: The Impact of the Future of Work on Individual Purpose and the Role of Education, aims to uncover how diverse society leaders in Singapore are thinking about the future of work and education, specifically in terms of finding meaning and purpose in education and work. With various technological advancements and the disruptions that are potentially caused by the acceleration of artificial intelligence, automation and robotics, it is predicted that work will become more irregular. While this may lead to greater freedom for people, it also poses a threat to well-being due to a sense of purposelessness in the absence of meaningful work.

Greater Reliance on Technology

Dr. Baildon and his team are trying to understand how education can prepare both students and workers to anticipate and plan for the irregularities that will stem from these future technological changes, as they have consequences for the future of education and the well-being of Singaporeans.

“It is difficult to know exactly how work is going to change. However, the current pandemic situation for instance, has forced us to resort to home-based learning and work. So, in the future a lot of work may be focused online, and the use of robotics and emerging technologies will change how we think about and conduct work. Because we’re having to rely more on technology, we need a more humanistic education that helps us to develop meaningful relationships and use technology in appropriate ways,” according to Dr Baildon.

Greater Need to Focus on Values, Ethics and Purposeful Work

Dr. Baildon emphasizes that education ought to be more values- and ethics-based as these will play a fundamental role in preparing people for meaningful futures and purposeful work. It is predicted that technology is going to free people up from routine tasks, hence granting them more time outside of work. Therefore, to effectively use that time, meaningful pursuits, leisure activities, creative arts and literature, are all important ways we can adapt as a response to the inevitable technological interruptions we will be faced with. However, Dr Baildon also noted that organizations themselves have a key role to play in helping workers gain meaning and purpose.

Workplaces need to feel like places of empowerment, hence the need for more democratic workplaces with shared understanding of what needs to be done. According to him, placing equal priorities on all types of work (including civic work), developing a sense of belonging and making staff feel heard and a part of organizations, are all factors that will lead to more purposeful work. While individual habits of wellbeing are important, Baildon insists that there needs to be a collective approach that changes structures and policies that oppress workers, and places equal emphasis on both the implementation of tasks, and psychological and social wellbeing.

Developing Growth Mindsets in Students

When asked how educators can prepare students for such future changes, Dr. Baildon reiterated that educational systems should focus on helping students develop growth mindsets, be open to different perspectives and prepare them for workplaces and personal meaning beyond monetary rewards. The process of online communication can be sociable but can also be negative especially with cyberbullying among young people. Dr. Baildon recommends nurturing in students, traits of curiosity, appreciation for others, and openness to different ideas and perspectives. With many technological advancements and in the absence of physical interaction, we need to create opportunities for students to pursue their interests and passions more.

Dr Baildon suggests that education should not be prescriptive from educators but should rather be more personalized, self-directed and empowering for students. Although he recognizes that it may be hard for students who are grades-motivated to find meaning outside of the classroom, he encourages educators to place equal emphasis on basic and critical literacy (for example, scientific literacy, critical thinking skills) and positive psychology, character strengths and individual wellbeing.

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