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Why Soft Skills Are Increasingly Important in the Age of AI and Automation

In the age of advanced technologies and the rise of artificial intelligence (AI), soft skills are taking an ever more prominent role in what we teach our children. Emotional intelligence revolves around social or interpersonal skills and personal values and the reality is that these qualities are becoming more crucial to the success of future generations.

At the 2018 World Economic Forum, business magnate Jack Ma explained that humanity has taught it’s children in a knowledge based way for two centuries, but we cannot teach them to compete with artificial intelligence or machine technology, both of which will continue to rapidly advance. Through activities like sports, music and other artistic endeavors, we can teach our children soft skills such as, “values, believing, independent thinking, teamwork and caring for others.”

Programs like Right To Play have been working toward that goal with a mission to protect, educate and empower through play. The non-profit was started in 1994 in Africa to follow those three core tenets in order to improve future generations coming out of wars. The organization has since expanded to 15 countries and helps 1.9 million children by advocating for quality education, gender equality, health and well-being, child protection and peaceful communities.

Canadian advisory board member for Right To Play Toronto’s Sean St. John says automation is playing a major role in how our education and social systems are evolving. Agreeing with Ma, St. John also notes that while harnessing technology to usher in the industries of the future, emotional and interpersonal skills will be what sets our value and ability apart from machine technology.

“In order for our children to compete with machine ability, soft skills and emotional intelligence must be emphasized to prepare our next generation of leaders, innovators and every other member of society,” adds St. John.

Learning social skills will allow our children to develop healthy relationships and self-esteem, improving their overall mental health as they mature. The fact is society and technology are growing at exponential rates, which is sure to remold the economic landscape. This makes it, in turn, imperative for children to grow up with resiliency and the ability to approach situations objectively.

“There are so many benefits that last over a lifetime from understanding mental health to better job prospects, financial stability, strong relationships. These are things we want for our kids,” Ann Douglas, a Canadian parenting expert and bestselling author, said in an interview.

While emotional stability, determination, control, optimism and conscientiousness have been identified as key skills by a University College of London study, Douglas says empathy, problem-solving and collaboration are also very important.

Academic success and knowledge based intelligence will always be important to education. But in a world where technology and artificial intelligence are constantly becoming more powerful, we need to be good at things they can’t do, because according to Jack Ma, “if the machines can do it better, you have to think about it.”

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