Journalist Tom Friedman Delivers Keynote Address at 2013 Global Conference


Teach For All was thrilled to welcome New York Times Foreign Affairs columnist and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Tom Friedman to give keynote remarks at today’s opening dinner for the 2013 Global Conference in Yunnan, China. Mr. Friedman’s observations on the economic impact of globalization and the information revolution bear enormous relevance to the work of Teach For All organizations to prepare under-served students around the world to compete and thrive in this transforming economy.

"In the last decade the world has gone from connected to hyper-connected and from interconnected to interdependent," Mr. Friedman began. The next phase in the information revolution—including the growth of mobile technology, cloud computing, and big data—has had tremendous implications for economies across the globe. Never before have individuals had more access to information on any topic from anywhere in the world, nor have they had the ability to collaborate and share work across vast geographical distances at rapid speeds.

These changes have fundamental implications for the types of employees that the twenty-first century economy will demand. More and more industries are finding that employee roles can be automated or outsourced. This is true not just of manufacturing jobs, but of many traditionally “white-collar” and service careers. “Any job that can be described by an algorithm” runs the risk of extinction, Mr. Friedman predicted.

This reality places tremendous additional burdens on the young job-seekers of the next generation. In an economy where the world’s collective knowledge is instantly accessible online, an individual’s expertise in a given field no longer guarantees their competiveness or employability. Instead, more and more industries will demand creativity and entrepreneurialism from all of their employees. “When I graduated from college, I had to ‘find’ a job. Instead, my daughters will have to ‘invent’ their own jobs” in order to stay competitive, Mr. Friedman shared.

Mr. Friedman argued that in the current shifting landscape it’s more urgent than ever that educators support under-achieving students to close the opportunity gap with their high-achieving peers. With the demise of low- and semi-skill jobs, students who fail to perform well in school will have fewer opportunities than ever available to them. And in today’s world educators have a responsibility to equip all students with the tools that will allow them to thrive in a transformed economy: creativity, critical thinking skills, and the ability to communicate and work collaboratively.

While these challenges should be foremost on the minds of Teach For All network partners, Mr. Friedman shared that practitioners of the “Teach For All” model should feel more affirmed in their work than ever. “Even with more information and educational resources available digitally, a great teacher is one of those jobs which cannot be automated or made obsolete,” he said. “A great teacher—there’s still nothing like it.”