Our society’s digital transition requires an in-depth cultural revolution in terms of our technological knowledge, understanding and training. As experts from all areas are getting to grips with the early consequences of the digital transformation of our economy and society, recent reforms of vocational training and secondary education have brought the issue of life-long, digital training for all back to the fore.
The issue of co-existence between Man and technology is a common theme of debates regarding our relationship to digital technology, and has been since its early days. Sometimes praised for its ability to advance our society, at other times criticised for its direct impact or side effects, technology is innately divisive as it contains the seeds of change. Starting with this statement, we need to understand its ins and outs to better anticipate and manage the consequences of these changes.
Several experts recently drew our attention to the social implications of the digital transformation of our economy. At the end of June, the research firm Oxford Economics revealed that 20 million jobs, mainly in industry but also in services, would be automated by 2020. Artificial intelligence will also profoundly change our relationship to work. Though experts disagree on the nature of these changes, they agree that nearly 50% of professions will be affected, in the longer or shorter term.
As a result, it’s less a question of knowing whether we have to accept these changes – they are already here – but rather knowing how to deal with them. Systemic by nature, digital technology has multiple, changing implications that require continuing, multidisciplinary learning – scientific, economic, philosophical, sociological, ecological, etc. – to understand all its subtleties and guarantee being constantly up-to-date. Currently the prerogative of a handful of experts, digital technology knowledge and expertise must become a genuine national cause to transform our society’s culture.
Though there appears to be consensus on the need for life-long digital learning for all, there’s actually a lot – perhaps even everything – still left to do.
Practically absent from national curricula, digital learning will make its first appearance next year. There have been coding lessons at primary and secondary level since 2017, but technological knowledge was only really added to secondary curricula in September 2019. Recent French secondary reform also requires 1.5 hours of compulsory core “Digital science and technology” lessons a week for year-11 students, and 4 hours (year 12) then 6 hours (year 13) of specialty “Digital technology and computer sciences” classes a week. This is encouraging news, though there have been lessons like this for several years in both the US and China.
Investing in primary and secondary education is necessary to guarantee everyone has an equal opportunity to understand the basics of digital technology. However, this does not determine our ability to get to grips with the inevitable changes to digital technology, or even change career paths to work with digital technology. As a result of our increasingly in-depth integration with technology, both at home and work, we need access to life-long training. This issue is even more important at a time when nearly one in three workers says that they have retrained or want to retrain to work in the digital field, according to an OpinionWay survey published in early July.
38% of respondents felt that digital training was not right for everyone. Why? The need for technical skills (60%) and the excessive cost of training (42%). Recent reform of vocational training offers an initial response to these concerns by making the credits available on training accounts more transparent, extending the scope of application of vocational training, and increasing coaching. Though knowledge and training remain our best assets to successfully deal with these changes and make them vectors for progress for both ourselves and society, we still need to make them quicker and easier to access.
Jean-François Castelluccia, Director, SQLI Institut