Technology trends bring hope and uncertainty

Let's not wait - let's act NOW.

Jarrod Lovett, Youth Engagement Strategy Manager, Division of Communication.
Sandhya Sahu listens audio from computer inside Child Resource Centre at slums of Shivaji Nagar in Mumbai, India.
26 May 2017

“Today and tomorrow’s world brings tremendous opportunities and challenges for children and young people. Technology’s advance is enhancing our lives while also destroying future sources of employment for young people.”

The first day of the meeting was a sobering and thought-provoking excursion around the theme of “The future for children – hopeful or hopeless?” It was a stark and frank look at how technology brings both benefits and challenges, with the underlying messages that the future for many children and young people is bleak. Perhaps this is not news to UNICEF staff who are well aware of the threats posed to children due to climate change, conflict, disease, political apathy. Technology as a threat may sound like something from a sci-fi film set in the distant future. Yet the evidence is showing that the risks are present and real.

Emerging technologies such as advanced robotics, artificial intelligence, and machine learning, will dramatically transform the way we live and work. In fact, it is already happening.  Recently, a big airline company has wound down its pilot training school because it no longer needs trained pilots to fly its plane. Instead, piloting an aircraft will become an automated function. In more down-to-earth examples, technologies are and will replace human functions in manufacturing, transportation and service industries, such as the driver-less car.

On the plus side, technological trends will create the need for jobs requiring technical, social and analytical skills, and it is estimated that 65% of children entering primary school today will ultimately work in new functions that currently do not even exist. That’s good news for those who benefit from a sophisticated education system able to cultivate these skills i.e. those in high-income countries, and not so good news where these skills are not harnessed and where the majority of jobs are low-skills based, i.e. low and middle-income countries.

A Syrian refugee boy in an Informal Tented Settlement in Jordan.
A Syrian refugee boy in an Informal Tented Settlement in Jordan.

Take a country like Jordan where the Innovation Meeting took place. The youth unemployment rate in 2016 was around 34%, in a situation where the workforce is increasing yet there are insufficient jobs available in a slow-growing economy. Technology is likely to exacerbate this situation by further reducing the number of jobs available.

This reflects a broader trend that children and adolescents today are unprepared to meet the evolving demands of the workforce. Education systems are generally slow to respond to these technological shifts and global trends, and so failing children in the breadth of education they provide. As a result, the workforce will not have the requisite skills of the future and so, can reinforce patterns of unemployment, poverty, and marginalisation.

With this foresight, however, UNICEF is well placed to influence education systems, formal and non-formal, and continue our work in preparing adolescents to contribute meaningfully in their communities and societies.

The term “21st-century skills” is applied to the skills requirements of adolescents as they prepare to enter adulthood and the workplace. It includes competencies such as web, information, computational and media literacy, as well as soft skills required for active citizenship, life-long learning and personal empowerment.

Our position between Governments, education providers, and business partners gives us a unique opportunity to support the delivery of skills that children will need, and so overt a dystopian future.

Global Innovation Meeting
UNICEF Innovation


UNICEF’S Global Innovation Meeting held in Amman, Jordan from 16 -18th of May 2017 brings together UNICEF colleagues, representatives, and private-sector partners to discuss the global trends shaping children’s lives, understand the skills that children will need for the future, and discuss how UNICEF needs to respond.

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