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Educating Humans for the Robot Age

by David and Maxine Jaffa

We are on the cusp of the Robot Age and many of us are, understandably, terrified.

Jobs and skills that we sacrificed so much time and money to get are no longer “safe”. Automation, outsourcing and globalization are already taking away money that was once paid to humans – local humans at that.

It’s not just low-skill, low-pay jobs that are effected. High-skill jobs can become low-pay as well. In our business we recently commissioned a design job to 99Designs. 99Designs sets hundreds of thousands of designers from all over the world against each other to compete for low paid design jobs. In Forbes magazine, Richard Grefe of the American Institute of Graphic Design Designers “scoffs ‘It's a pricing structure that does not relate to value’."

Is it all just doom and gloom for our education and work?


We founded the Jaffa Foundation because we believe the future presents many more opportunities than challenges. As a technology entrepreneur, David has seen this commoditisation of certain skill-sets. But what we’ve also seen is that certain skills, character traits and behaviours are inherently difficult to commoditise. This was true for both Maxine and David’s grandparents, who were impoverished political refugees on opposite sides of the globe. It is true for our own children - who we’re guiding towards these stronger ‘bets’. Importantly, the areas that are less subject to commoditisation are also those that will create wealth for society at large, particularly in first world countries.


David's grandparents were in the rag trade in London's East End

So it’s exciting that the right leadership advice for individuals also seems to be right for the whole education system. These “robot proof areas are worthy of public investment and should form part of a ‘quality’ education, particularly at Secondary, Further and Higher Education.


David’s grandparents’ shop on Artillery Passage

Part of our work in the Jaffa Foundation will be to get into the specifics and develop a curriculum for wealth and wellness that can be shared with everyone. It’s a perfect time to be doing this because the goal is no longer to help disadvantaged youth get the same skills as privileged youth. The privileged youth are also starving for the right skills. ALL young people need to become “robot proof” in order to achieve economic empowerment.


Maxine’s grandfather in his shop in Germiston, South Africa

In the case of both of our grandparents, they came from poor villages and had to flee persecution in Lithuania and Russia in the Second World War. It was an appalling situation, but they were less reliant than their contemporaries who were on traditional routes to success. There is a Yiddush word called “chutzpah” which roughly translated means “audacity” or fearlessness. Our grandparents were able to use this chutzpah and resilience and, in both cases, leapfrogged 'advantaged' youngsters.

This is why we are passionate about the right mind-set. It’s one of the main ingredients of success. As leaders in the education system, it is our responsibility to encourage leaders to tell young people, ESPECIALLY those from disadvantaged backgrounds, that they have just as much right to be successful as anybody else and if they feel they have certain disadvantages, they just need to try twice as hard. We live at a time of unparalleled opportunity. 

As leaders in education, we feel a personal responsibility to lead young people in a direction that is good for them. As parents we are careful not to tell our kids what they can't do or aren't capable of, and we feel that there is no reason this shouldn’t be true for all youth. We want to inspire them to believe in themselves so they can achieve great things, direct them to where the opportunities are and teach them how to differentiate themselves in a globalising economy. That is how education can support wealth-creation by individuals; and how society itself will stretch and grow. 

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