Character in the classroom with Marlborough House

Martyn Ward, headmaster of Marlborough House in Hawkhurst, looks ahead to the role of ‘character education’ in school and the world of work

The average flight of a Boeing plane is reported to only require pilot intervention for just seven minutes of time in the air, and we know that disease diagnosis without human involvement or error is a very real future for the world of medicine.

Of course, not all children want to become pilots or doctors, but as educators, it’s a reminder that how and what we teach our children should, to an increasing extent, be shaped by looking ahead to a future of further automation, globalisation, advances in artificial intelligence, and the kind of technology that further negates the need for human interaction.

Jobs that exist today may not exist tomorrow. Although you could argue that this has been true throughout history, as we approach our Fourth Industrial Revolution, I believe that schools have a major part to play in preparing children not only for an ever-changing world, but for a Google age, where the mastery of content knowledge isn’t enough for them to thrive in tomorrow’s workplace.

The acquisition of knowledge at school is insufficient preparation for a world of work where computers will always do that so much better. Working with technology while developing the qualities and virtues exclusive to humans, such as emotional intelligence, resilience, courage, empathy and integrity, is crucial, so it’s more important than ever that we’re educating the ‘character’, as well as the mind, at school.

‘Character education’ has always been delivered by the best schools, but to develop the life skills that children will need to outthink and manoeuvre the smartest computers and their impact on the world of work, it should be structured and embedded into the whole curriculum, not delivered as a ‘bolt-on’, through RE or personal, social, health and economic education lessons (PSHEE).

By also establishing a shared and widely understood language of character education in every classroom, across every subject, and from the earliest stages of a child’s learning journey, teachers can identify, nurture and develop these core skills early.

In doing so, technological advancements, new forms of employment, and increasing interconnectedness are more likely
to be met by agile, life-long learners, able to adapt to rapid change, and be capable of making any number of positive contributions to a world already rooted in technology.

Schools have a duty to show children how technology can enhance their learning. The Khan Academy’s remote learning software, with its 10million monthly subscribers and mission to provide a ‘free, world-class education for anyone, anywhere’ is clearly onto something. But it’s the ‘education of character’ that makes what our children know so much more valuable, and could, for them, be the difference between thriving or just surviving in the world beyond school.