Doubling Down on Being Human

The debates across all sectors about what the future will look like in a post-COVID world continue to rage. Will corporations continue to invest in renting city centre office blocks? How commonplace will blended working become as professionals spend more time working from their bespoke garden office rather than commuting into urban workplaces? And is the pandemic simply accelerating trends already underway, or has COVID-19 afforded us a golden opportunity to change forever how we live our professional adult lives?

In education, the debate has manifested itself in many areas. Is a national set of qualifications at the end of Year11(Fifth Form) still justified when all pupils stay in education until 18? Are terminal examinations the fairest way of assessing knowledge and skills? Will schools continue to operate in their traditional form as the advent of online and blended teaching platforms, the growth of AI and greater use of technology offer the potential to re-imagine what a classroom and school can look like? And that perennial favourite, are we even teaching our young people the right knowledge and skills for the world of tomorrow?

Last term, I enjoyed a discussion on Radio 4’s Today during which Conservative peer David Willetts and dotcom entrepreneur Martha Lane-Fox explored some of these broader questions. They covered the future of the tech industry and likely trends in the digital space before touching upon the inevitable expansion of ‘green’ jobs as the world gets to grips with its responsibilities towards the environment. But the comment which resonated most strongly was made by the founder of Last Minute when she referenced Silicon Valley visionary Jaron Lanier and talked about the importance of “doubling down on being human”. Whatever the future holds, Lane-Fox argued, the need for ‘human skills’ has never been stronger.

I am glad she used the phrase ‘human skills’ and avoided the more commonly found ‘soft skills’. There is nothing ‘soft’ about empathy, the ability to communicate strongly, or to collaborate effectively with others, or adaptability, creativity, problem-solving and critical thinking, to name but a few. These are deeply human traits which have been supporting the development and advancement of homo sapiens for thousands of years. They are part of what it means to be human and they have never been needed more.

Acting with humanity – doubling down on being human – has never been more important as our nations and the international community struggle to find a collective way out of this pandemic. I am pleased that the UK’s national vaccination effort is making great strides, but it is a source of sadness to hear the leader of the World Health Organisation describe the stockpiling of vaccines by wealthier nations as “the world…on the brink of a catastrophic moral failure”. As the BBC journalist Lewis Goodall put it, “Even in an age where the nation state has been making a comeback, the lack of multilateral political leadership on Covid has been extremely striking, especially when compared to the very successful international scientific effort.”

I have written in this forum before about how strongly I feel organisations like Wellington should contribute during times of national crisis and I remain as committed in this regard as ever. This is why we have offered Wellington’s facilities to the local authorities as a potential vaccination centre. We have also re-opened our partnership with Frimley Park Hospital to offer frontline NHS workers accommodation and are continuing to work with partner schools to support local teachers and pupils in any way we can. The message we continue to receive, however, is that the digital divide remains the biggest barrier to learning for so many young people from low-income families in our local communities.

This is why I would like to finish this first Master’s Voice of 2021 with another plea for support of our Donation for Education scheme. If you have an old laptop or tablet at home which is gathering dust, but which could be repurposed to allow a child in one of our partner schools access to online education, please do contact Dr Rachelle Kirkham, RSK@wellingtoncollege.org.uk, or Mr Iain Henderson, IMH@wellingtoncollege.org.uk. It would be hugely appreciated.

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