With vaccines emerging and a new year ushering in a renewed demand for some kind of back-to-normal routine, society’s return to work is front of mind for many professionals. However, having adjusted effectively to remote work, we find ourselves at a pivotal moment. Many businesses, leaders and workers are questioning whether returning to work is a viable decision and are rethinking how our new work life could look.
The moment we are in gives us the unique opportunity to abandon the costs and inefficient practices that have been forces of habit for decades and decide which parts of our work life are worth keeping.
Last week, The Wall Street Journal published an article marking the 100th anniversary of the word ‘robot’. First coined in a Czech play by Karel Čapek, the term ‘robot’ has gone on to represent everything from dystopian images of machines posing as humans to simple chatbots that converse with people on websites. Interestingly, the term predated the actual object by a couple of decades.
Recent years have seen the topic of bias surge in news, procedure and legislation. It is now common knowledge that we each have a level of unconscious bias, which we must take into account in decision making processes. Movements of last decade have centralised the need to undo the injustices that prevail in our society and awareness of the needs of minority groups has significantly grown.
However, coinciding with this surge of knowledge and pursuit of equality has been our ever-increasing development of technology. Artificial Intelligence is appearing across all industries, spheres and processes. Despite achieving unprecedented levels of efficiency, productivity and speed, it is also bringing with it the biases of the society it serves. At the same rate that our awareness of injustice increases, the technology we are creating threatens to perpetuate it.
In the mid-1960s, Dr Martin Luther King Jr suggested that the primary goal of education ought to be two things: teaching students to think deeply, and to think with discernment. These two essential ingredients, he argued, were the key to building both intelligence and character. Beyond this, Dr King knew that these skills were the antidote to the biases and bigotry fuelling the racism of America at the time.
Fast forward 60 years, to the first month of 2021, and the danger of ignorance is again painfully clear. The last year has brought us the chaos of misinformation more than any other year before. The media information surrounding COVID alone brought dozens of conflicting messages, all of them amplified within a context of panic in which even officials struggled to effectively deal with this unprecedented issue.
In the 20th Century world, personalisation was a luxury only some could afford. After Industrial processes took over and assembly lines made cheap mass production possible, the personalisation of a product was not in high demand, and when it was required, the price reflected its uniqueness.
The landscape of higher education has been changing for decades. Just like the traditional lecture format and the university methods of assessment, the concept of the modern exam is outdated. This year has seen exams evolve in a way that may seem futuristic but only serves to deepens the trends of the past.
One of the most valuable lessons this year has taught us is that the life we were living pre-COVID isn’t necessarily the one we are seeking post-COVID. Though we have been longing for life to get ‘back to normal’ since the pandemic hit, there are many parts of the old normal that we would do well to leave behind.
The classrooms of history have been deep in a process of change for decades, but this year has accelerated that transformation more than ever. With the classrooms of the future rapidly becoming those of today, the old idiom has again been proved true: necessity really is the mother of invention.