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What is character education and why is it important?

Many readers of this blog know that I’m excited about the benefits of AI so when I started writing my latest missive about character education, I thought I would ask AI to kick things off.  It came up with this little joke:

“Why did the brilliant mathematician break up with their calculator?

Because they had all the right answers but zero connection!”


Well, it’s not quite Groucho Marx, but I can see where the algorithm was going with it and its still pretty impressive stuff.  Nvidia, the American technology company, surged past Microsoft this week to become the world’s largest company with a market valuation of three trillion US dollars. If this is a new gold rush, the BBC Radio 4 Today programme mused, then Nvidia is the company selling the shovels. Nvidia value hits $3tn, overtaking Apple - BBC News.

This record-breaking valuation is largely driven by the prospects of increased human productivity, which in turn cuts costs and increases profits.  Whilst new technology rarely reduces overall employment, it can, in the long term, result in a hollowing out of the labour market.  Historical examples range from the vast typing pools of the middle of the 20th Century and the more recent evolution of shopping habits which has forced the typical British High Street to reimagine itself as Amazon and e-commerce has swept all before it.  None of these changes are inherently bad, but certainly the job prospects of typists and high street shoe salesmen have reduced.

The potential impact of AI on the jobs market of tomorrow is huge and needs to be considered carefully.  Any jobs which can be easily replicated by AI are likely to be under threat and in their place a new pantheon of opportunities will emerge.  As The Economist reported last week, the search for relevant skills is heating up: the demand for Mathematics graduates is only going in one direction; tech companies are falling over themselves to hire software engineers with a focus on “generative AI”, and some schools are increasingly employing specialist technologists to assist with digital strategies.

While these specific skills are undoubtedly in high demand, I predict that the very things that make us human – empathy, flexibility, creativity (well, mostly) – will remain out of reach of AI for some time yet.  These softer character traits will increasingly set us humans apart from technology and can and should be an area of focus for schools.  Those students who graduate with skills as well as good grades will invariably be the ones who find themselves in the most advantageous positions when it comes to future employment.

But life is more than just finding employment: it is how you live that life that matters.  A report in The Times this week suggested that those who attended independent schools are more likely to maintain a healthy life in middle age with lower blood pressure, a healthier weight and enhanced cognitive skills.  The assumption being that an education rich in character education has long term benefits which might at first be difficult to quantify but overtime enable people to flourish and thrive in later life.  As we embrace the next wave of technological revolution, education outside the classroom, a character education, will be proven to be as important as the lessons taught within it.

David Paton is the Head of Radnor House Sevenoaks

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