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Helping students develop critical thinking skills for the changing job landscape


The recent release of ChatGPT has put artificial intelligence (AI) and automation back into the spotlight. This has sparked media coverage and many conversations around how AI is shaping our day-to-day lives by helping with tasks like writing emails and essays, and performing online research.

These technologies are already changing the way many jobs are performed and as they continue to expand this will open up new possibilities in the workplace, shaping the careers that are available as well as what types of skills are needed the most.

The rise of AI and automation

Automation is not new, and has been used for many years to help us perform repetitive tasks like assembling things in a factory or sorting through large amounts of data by programming machines and robots to automatically follow specific instructions. AI takes this one step further by allowing machines to also think, learn, and make choices based on the information we give them.

These technologies are benefiting our daily lives such as personalising our experience on Spotify, Netflix, or YouTube by recommending content that it thinks we like, helping us type messages on our phones, email, and computer through smart predictive text, helping us around the house through Google Home and Alexa. It's also making travelling easier through translation apps like Papago which uses AI technology to analyse our voices and you can also now take a photo using Google Lens to translate signs and menus written in a foreign language.

Stunning pieces of digital art can also be created by entering simple text prompts including the recent winner of the 2023 Sony World Photography Award that was entirely generated using AI.

How it’s changing jobs

The use of AI and automation is enhancing and changing the way many jobs are being performed across all sectors from factories, warehouses and to the office. Examples include companies like Amazon saving space and manpower by using intelligent robotic systems to sort and move products in their warehouses to financial services firms using algorithms to automate many of the approval processes for insurance and loans that previously required an analyst or Actuary to spend time on.

Small businesses to large corporations no longer need to allocate effort for manual data entry when it comes to accounting and bookkeeping, where AI is now able to identify information on an invoice or receipt and automatically set the relevant information within the accounting software for payment to be processed.

AI technology is also improving the effectiveness of jobs in healthcare where doctors are diagnosing patients more accurately and are getting better at identifying people who might be at risk thanks to enhanced medical scans and analysis.

The implication of these changes is that many jobs now and in the future are based less around routine tasks and are more focused on strategy, analysis and other value-add work. Business and professional services jobs like accountants, lawyers, and consultants that employ almost 20% of the country alone are likely to be most impacted with graduate lawyers already seeing their roles impacted by the ability of AI bots to process large amounts of legal data. While it’s predicted that some jobs may disappear entirely, research suggests AI could create at least 12 million more jobs than it replaces from the increase in productivity and efficiency it gives businesses which will allow them to expand and create new roles for people to fill.

The importance of critical thinking skills

Critical thinking is the ability to think logically, analyse information, and form well-reasoned judgements. This involves being able to reflect on an idea or argument, look at it from different angles or perspectives, and make well-informed decisions based on the information available. This type of insight is unique to humans and is important to both competing with AI and automation as well as working together with this technology in the future.

While AI machines are able to present us with information, let us know what the possibilities are, and recognise patterns that are difficult for us to see, making strategic decisions with that information requires the human ability to problem solve and judge things from both their point of view and those of others. The success of AI in businesses depends on the quality of data it’s given and will need workers who can assess its bias and decide if this information is credible and trustworthy. As a result, the World Economic Forum predicts that critical thinking will be “among the most sought after skills in the workplace by 2025”.

Ways to help students develop critical thinking

There are plenty of ways we can help students to think critically and improve their decision making skills inside and outside the classroom.

Make everything a conversation

Allowing students to challenge their ideas is an effective way to help them develop their critical thinking. This means asking open-ended questions in the classroom while encouraging students to discuss and debate different topics. By creating a space at home where open discussion is encouraged and everyone’s opinions are respected, parents can help promote this in other simple ways like asking kids to suggest their own ideas and to explain their answers when helping with homework, rather than simply telling them what’s right. When students are given the chance to engage in dialogue, think independently and form their own opinions, research has found that they’re more likely to learn critical thinking skills.

Use real life scenarios

One way to help students develop critical thinking skills is by making connections between the ideas and problems they encounter in real life and the concepts they learn in the classroom. By presenting ideas like poverty or conflict in the context of current events this allows students to gain a deeper understanding and an appreciation for the practical implications of their ideas. Studies have shown that this is effective at promoting critical thinking in students particularly when applied to problem-solving.

Incorporating different points of view

Teachers and parents can help students by exploring different perspectives in their lessons at schools and at home. Assignments that ask students to look at different sources of information like books, movies, or research papers and compare them can help them understand that it's important to look at an idea from different angles before forming an opinion.

With the trend of students largely getting their news from social platforms like Tiktok, it’s important that parents encourage their kids to use a variety of news media so they have a more balanced and accurate perspective on different topics. Alternatively, in situations where a child has a disagreement with a friend or family member, it can be useful to ask them to try and see things from that person's perspective and consider why they might have acted that way. This can help the child develop empathy and a better understanding of how others think, which is a crucial part of critical thinking.

Encourage decision making

It’s important to encourage decision-making so students can gain experience applying their knowledge and thinking about solutions. This could mean letting students choose their own topics and take ownership of their learning in the classroom or using role-playing activities to explore different decisions and their outcomes. Parents can also help their kids by involving them in planning family activities, meals, and deciding on household rules as well as putting them in charge of choosing things like after school activities and their lunches. This gives them a safe space where they can see the outcome and evaluate the pros and cons of their choices.

Setting up students for the future

By honing their critical thinking skills, students can become more independent learners, confident decision-makers, and better-equipped members of society.

Whether it’s in the workplace or their daily lives, critical thinking is useful for any path that students choose to take.

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