We’ve written extensively on the benefits of an education in the arts. It was the subject of Harriet’s Dare 2B Digital talk in 2014, and it’s often the first conversation we have with students and their families. The question, “what kind of future do artists have?” is fraught with concerns about the fate of both art and work amidst the impact of advances in technology. If you’ve read our other posts, seen Harriet speak, or sat in a room with us for longer than 2 seconds, you probably know what we're about to say.
An education in the arts teaches students invaluable skills: creative problem solving, collaboration, resourcefulness, leadership, resilience, empathy - to name a few. These are vital skills that set creative students apart in a rapidly changing economy, and we’re not the only ones who think so. Proponents of an arts-based education exist in unlikely places. Perhaps most importantly, many jobs currently available to college graduates didn't exist 5 years ago, and more jobs and opportunities requiring new skills are being created across our international economies.
Last week at the World Economic Forum, Jack Ma, the founder of one of the largest tech companies in the world, fielded a question about how to deal with job losses due to automation. As the head of Alibaba, China’s answer to Amazon and a company that is making strides in AI, Mr. Ma has been a vocal source on the subject. But the way he answered was radical and unexpected.
“If we do not change the way we teach, 30 years from now we’ll be in trouble. The things we teach our children are things from the past 200 years - it’s knowledge-based. And we cannot teach our kids to compete with machines, they are smarter.”
Ma goes on to say that instead, we should be teaching kids values and skills that no machine can possess. Qualities like "independent thinking, teamwork, and care for others" will not just set students apart, they will ensure students can be valuable contributors to society in ways that make them irreplaceable. And how does Jack Ma think we can impart that kind of knowledge?
“I think we should teach our kids sports, music, painting - the arts - to make sure that they are different. Everything we teach should make them different from machines.”
We couldn’t agree more. It’s true that you can’t teach people to compete with robots, but you can expose them to disciplines that give them the skills to do what machines can’t. Luckily for us and the creative students we get to work with every day, there's almost no better way to learn those skills than through an arts-based education.
To see Jack Ma’s full answer to the question, watch the unedited version of his interview below: