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From the desk of the Head Master 12 October 2018

In a week with many highlights, Dave Coplin’s talk, part of the Sir Ben Kingsley lecture series, has given me the most food for thought.

With his experience of working for Microsoft and envisioning the future, he has developed a very interesting take on our interaction with technology and how machine learning is affecting us, and will continue to do so. It was an excellent lecture, as those of you who attended will attest. “This week’s blog will write itself,” I said to Dave at the end, without thinking through what I was saying. With machine learning, a self-writing Head Master’s blog could well be a prospect for the future – but I can assure you this week’s at least has not been generated by algorithm.

It was striking that his lecture was not a plea for more pupils to study maths, science and coding at the expense of arts and humanities. We are educating pupils for jobs which do not exist and many current jobs will become machine tasks. Employment will be based around the things that machines cannot do.

Two of the things he told us we will need above all were creativity and empathy. The third key skill was accountability – not following our devices on autopilot but recognising that while machines can give us probable best outcomes, we still have to be the ones to make the decisions.

He also drew a striking analogy with the way machines learn – by sampling huge amounts of data and spotting patterns – with our own experience of reading. The more we read the better we understand our own language. It’s essentially the same process, and many of our children are not reading enough.

A healthy relationship with technology is essential and we must recognise that there is good as well as bad here. It is too easy to vilify children for spending too long on their phones and devices, when we as adults don’t appreciate that they have not known a world without them, and while we are perhaps not always modelling the behaviour we want from our children. Perhaps we could all disengage from our technology for part of this weekend and pick up a book…