Question – 1: Some of this panic is overdone—and linked to the business cycle: there was much ado about “a war for talent” in America in the 1990s, until the dotcom bubble burst. People often talk about shortages when they should really be discussing price. Eventually, supply will rise to meet demand and the market will adjust. But, while you wait, your firm might go bust. For the evidence is that the talent shortage is likely to get worse.
Nobody really disputes the idea that the demand for talent-intensive skills is rising. The value of “intangible” assets—everything from skilled workers to patents to know-how—has ballooned from 20% of the value of companies in the S&P 500 to 70% today. The proportion of American workers doing jobs that call for complex skills has grown three times as fast as employment in general. As other economies move in the same direction, the global demand is rising quickly.
As for supply, the picture in much of the developed world is haunted by demography. By 2025 the number of people aged 15-64 is projected to fall by 7% in Germany, 9% in Italy and 14% in Japan. Even in still growing America, the imminent retirement of the baby-boomers means that companies will lose large numbers of experienced workers in a short space of time (by one count half the top people at America’s 500 leading companies will go in the next five years). Meanwhile, two things are making it much harder for companies to adjust.
The first is the collapse of loyalty. Companies happily chopped out layers of managers during the 1990’s; now people are likely to repay them by moving to the highest bidder. The second is the mismatch between what schools are producing and what companies need. In most Western countries schools are churning out too few scientists and engineers—and far too many people who lack the skills to work in a modern economy (that’s why there are talent shortages at the top alongside structural unemployment for the low-skilled).
Question – 2: They call it the “marshmallow test.” A four- to six-year-old-child sits alone in a room at a table facing a marshmallow on a plate. The child is told: “If you don’t eat this treat for 15 minutes you can have both it and a second one.” Kids on average wait for five or six minutes before eating the marshmallow. The longer a child can resist the treat has been correlated with higher general competency later in life.
Now a study shows that ability to resist temptation isn’t strictly innate—it’s also highly influenced by environment.
Researchers gave five-year-olds used crayons and one sticker to decorate a sheet of paper. One group was promised a new set of art supplies for the project—but then never received it. But the other group did receive new crayons and better stickers.
Then both groups were given the marshmallow test. The children who had been lied to waited for a mean time of three minutes before eating the marshmallow. The group that got their promised materials resisted an average of 12 minutes.
Thus, the researchers note that experience factors into a child’s ability to delay gratification. When previous promises have been hollow, why believe the next one?
Question – 3: Human remains are a fundamental part of the archaeological record, offering unique insights into the lives of individuals and populations in the past. Recently a new set of challenges to the study of human remains has emerged from a rather unexpected direction: the British government revised its interpretation of nineteenth-century burial legislation in a way that would drastically curtail the ability of archaeologists to study human remains of any age excavated in England and Wales. This paper examines these extraordinary events and the legal, political and ethical questions that they raise.
In April 2008 the British government announced that, henceforth, all human remains archaeologically excavated in England and Wales should be reburied after a two-year period of scientific analysis. Not only would internationally important prehistoric remains have to be returned to the ground, removing them from public view, but also there would no longer be any possibility of long-term scientific investigation as new techniques and methods emerged and developed in the future. Thus, while fauna remains, potsherds, artifacts and environmental samples could be analysed and re-analysed in future years, human remains were to be effectively removed from the curation process. Archaeologists and other scientists were also concerned that this might be the first step towards a policy of reburying all human remains held in museum collections in England and Wales including prehistoric, Roman, Saxon, Viking and Medieval as well as more recent remains.
Question -4: What is the solution for nations with increasing energy demands, hindered by frequent power cuts and an inability to compete in the international oil market? For East Africa at least, experts think geothermal energy is the answer. More promising still, the Kenyan government and international investors seem to be listening. This is just in time according to many, as claims of an acute energy crisis are afoot due to high oil prices, population spikes and droughts.
Currently over 60% of Kenya’s power comes from hydroelectric sources but these are proving increasingly unreliable as the issue of seasonal variation is intensified by erratic rain patterns. Alternative energy sources are needed; and the leading energy supplier in Kenya, Kenya Electricity Generating Company (KenGen), hopes to expand its geothermal energy supply from 13% to 25 % of its total usage by 2020. The potential of geothermal energy in the region was first realised internationally by the United Nations Development Program, when geologists observed thermal anomalies below the East African Rift system. Locals have been utilizing this resource for centuries; using steam vents to create the perfect humidity for greenhouses, or simply to enjoy a swim in the many natural hot lakes.
Along the 6000 km of the rift from the Red Sea to Mozambique, geochemical, geophysical and heat flow measurements were made to identify areas suitable for geothermal wells. One area lies next to the extinct Olkaria volcano, within the Hell’s Gate National Park, and sits over some of the thinnest continental crust on Earth. This is a result of the thinning of the crust by tectonic stretching, causing hotter material below the Earth’s surface to rise, resulting in higher temperatures. This thin crust was ideal for the drilling of geothermal wells, reaching depths of around 3000 m, where temperatures get up to 342°C, far higher than the usual temperature of 90°C at this depth. Water in the surrounding rocks is converted to steam by the heat. The steam can be used to drive turbines and produce electricity. Wells like those in Olkaria operate by pumping cold water down to permeable ‘geothermal reservoir’ rocks, causing steam to rise back up a nearby production well. Care must be taken with the rate at which cold water is added so as to not permanently cool the source rock.
Question – 5: What is text/written language anyway? It’s an ancient IT for storing and retrieving information. We store information by writing it, and we retrieve it by reading it.
Six thousand to 10,000 years ago, many of our ancestors’ hunter-gatherer societies settled on the land and began what’s known as the agricultural revolution. That new land settlement led to private property and increased production and trade of goods, generating a huge new influx of information. Unable to keep all this information in their memories, our ancestors created systems of written records that evolved over millennia into today’s written languages.
But this ancient IT is already becoming obsolete. Text has run its historic course and it now rapidly getting replaced in every area of our lives by the ever-increasing array of emerging IT’s driven by voice, video, and body movement rather than the written word. In my view, this is a positive step forward in the evolution of human technology, and it carries great potential for a total positive redesign of K-12 education.