Amar Kumar talks about the future of education in an interview for the Observatory

People who understand how the world works or how humans interact. Those are going to be some uniquely human skills that will be important in the future.
— Amar Kumar.

Amar Kumar, Head of Product Management at Pearson Online & Blended Learning, a world leader in educational services, spoke with the Observatory on the future of education.

Read the full transctript:

The Observatory: What are the skills future generations will need? And what can be done today in the Latin American classrooms to develop these skills?

Kumar: Sure. So our research shows that the most important skill is really learning how to learn. It's called learning strategies. And there are very specific things you can do when you're in secondary school or post-secondary school to learn how to learn. And the reason that's so important is because the economy is going to be changing every few years, right? We know that. The jobs of today will not be the jobs of tomorrow, and we will need to continue to pick up new skills as we go. And so we think that learners who know how to learn are going to be incredibly successful. In addition to that, we also see there's a real importance for traditionally known as liberal arts skills or liberal arts knowledge areas, knowledge areas such as sociology and anthropology. You know really people who understand how the world works or how humans interact. Those are going to be some uniquely human skills that will be important in the future. So as we see the impact of technology and robotics and automation, as well as other trends, come to impact the job markets. Students and teachers will need to pick up uniquely human skills to succeed.

The Observatory: In what kind of technologies and learning resources should Latin American university invest?

Kumar: Yeah. So I think it's technology-led education. So you want educational innovations that have, you know they help students prepare for the future, but that doesn't mean you have to come into a particular building. It doesn't mean you have to do it at a particular time. So I think in Latin America there's a huge opportunity to help schools prepare for students rather than students preparing for schools. And so for me, that includes more agile pathways, more flexible pathways. For me, it means students choosing when they want to study or where they want to study or how they want to study, but the mechanisms of studying are all effective. They're all really delightful and fun to use, and they're going to improve learning. So those are the things that Latin America can focus on rather than building a new campus or a new classroom. Let's really think about how technology can help students prepare, or how technology can help prepare for the new needs of students.

The Observatory: What should be the role of parents in the future of education?

Kumar: Yeah. Huge role. So parents will have, they already have, but I think their role will only increase because students aren't just learning in a classroom. They're in a classroom maybe eight or nine hours a day, but the rest of their day they're learning from parents and friends and colleagues and other people. So parents have a huge role to play to encourage this mindset of always learning, this mindset of lifelong learning in their kids. So from the beginning, kids should know that they're in school not for once in their life but forever. So they will constantly be learning. And school is just the first time where they get some structured learning. But over their lifetime they will need to continue to learn. So parents are the ones who set that tone, that culture for their kids. So we really think that parents have to really interpret the messages from this and understand which skills are going to be important. And I think the second takeaway for parents is help your children pick a career or a job but remind them that that is not the job they will have for life. But they might have 5, 10, 15 different jobs across many different careers over their lifetime. And again, reinforcing always learning will help them prepare for multiple jobs. So they should look at every job as a stepping stone to something greater, to something new. And so that mindset of innovation and impact and just continuous learning is the best thing that parents can help students absorb.

The Observatory: What will be the impact of automation in the future of teaching?

Kumar: So we are seeing technology impact teaching not by automating teaching but by improving outcomes. So if you're a teacher in front of a classroom today with no technology, you don't really have much data on how your students have learned something or how they're doing. You can give them a test. But then you have to stop the class, take a test, go and grade the test, and then see how they're doing. So technology can help make that whole process much more efficient. The technology can say as I'm learning a lesson, as a student is learning a lesson, the technology is assessing how they're doing. Rather than stopping the class and taking a test, technology is always providing data to the teacher on how particular students are doing. So now teachers can then adapt their instruction, they can personalize their instruction, and they can really make sure that every student is learning at their pace and every student is making progress. So for me, it's not about automation. It's about enabling a teacher. And the role of a teacher is now to act on those insights rather than read out a lesson plan for example.

Kumar: The Observatory: In your opinion, what do higher education look like in 2049?

2049. Okay. So I think higher education or an institute of higher education will not be a place, but it will be a platform. And it's a platform for learning. So I will join the Tec de Monterrey as a student when I'm 18 years old, but I will have a relationship with you for life. And I will learn with you for life. And you promise to me that I can learn whatever topics I want. And I promise to you that any time I need to learn something, I will come to you first. That's one change. I think it becomes a lifelong platform. I think the second thing is as our economy starts to specialize and become focused in certain areas, no one university can be good at all of those. So universities will start to create networks with other universities to then say, "Okay. I have a relationship with this student for their life. But they want a course that I can't offer." So then the network will allow the student to access other content, other teachers. So I think those are two changes we will start to see. We haven't seen them yet. You see a lot of technology. You see a lot of online classes. Those will happen. And they are already happening. But I think for me the bigger more dramatic change is when I sign up for a relationship for life and that gets me access to a network of other high-quality universities for life.