Education is about preparing kids for the future. We don’t know exactly what the future will look like but here’s some issues we should consider.
Are you excited for the future?
Do you imagine a wonderful world were new technology and ideas have solved our problems and freed the population to spend our days in rewarding, ‘gainful’ leisure activities, devoid of stress, where we feel like we’ve finally found utopia?
Or do you fear the future?
Do you imagine a life of scarcity for an overpopulated world, where our major problems have not been magically solved and we finally have to deal with them? A world of extreme competition with not only humans but those dreaded robots and their AI master brains that we just can’t keep up with.
Who knows what the future will look like?
But we still need to start preparing and educating the future generation for this world.
The Future of Education, Issues to be Considered
Ok, so I know that neither of those two scenarios will play out. It’s never all black, or all white, however, the mix of grey we end up with will be some combination of the above possibilities. There will be some good and some bad and we really have no idea what that looks like.
However, we need to start looking at what that might mean, and that’s why I find the writing and speeches of Yuval Noah Harari quite enlightening. He doesn’t have all the answers, but he does seem to be asking the right questions and seeking for some hints that we might use going forward.
What Kids Need to Learn to Succeed in 2050
In his recent article on Medium, What Kids Need to Learn to Succeed in 2050, he expands on these very issues. And he concludes that we don’t know what the future will look like. And unlike any time in the past, we actually cannot envision that future world. It will be radically different – the world will be altered, social orders and norms will be changed, and even we, as a species, will have evolved, in both natural and unnatural ways.
This is an enlightening read, and I recommend you have a look. But for our purposes, looking at the future of education, I want to focus on one of his big arguments. He sates:
“To keep up with the world of 2050, you will need to do more than merely invent new ideas and products, but above all, reinvent yourself again and again.”Harari
This is a process that I believe has already started. We are well aware of the changed nature of work and lifestyle. The fact that we all will live longer, have higher levels of health and education, and see the mind boggling new options of technology available, will mean that we will no longer be happy settling with a ‘normal life’. Nor will we be able to. The world will become so much more pliable than it even is today, and the idea of a fixed job, a fixed address, personality, capability, and so on will be ridiculous. (And those that can’t adapt will most likely be left behind.)
Future of Education
So if the new way of being is to be flexible, to be able to adapt to the fluid nature of the future, then we need an education system that aids that.
Because we are ancient beings with ancient programming and we don’t like change. Yes we do evolve over time, but deep down we are still instinctual animals, and those instincts are becoming less and less adaptable to the new paradigms of the future. We don’t like change and the world is going through rapid change all the time now.
This, I believe, is one of the major causes of the issues of modern life. Stress and many other possibly related major social issues, like drug abuse, depression, suicide, obesity, and so on, I believe are all signs of an inability for large parts of society to handle the huge changes that are going on.
I may be wrong, it may not be a reaction to change. However, these are all signs of dissatisfaction. These are signs that there are sizeable sections of society that are disconnected and dissatisfied. If people are secure, happy and satisfied, then they don’t need to load-up and tune out as much as they are.
If people are stressed and dissatisfied now, what will happen when the future becomes even more unstable and unpredictable – where we will need to reinvent ourselves again and again.
Regardless of the major causes and the psychological causes, we know there is a problem.
Signs of a Big Problem
And here I’m generalizing that much of the modern world is in a similar state.
“Between 2009 and 2017, rates of depression among kids ages 14 to 17 increased by more than 60%, the study found. The increases were nearly as steep among those ages 12 to 13 (47%) and 18 to 21 (46%), and rates roughly doubled among those ages 20 to 21. In 2017—the latest year for which federal data are available—more than one in eight Americans ages 12 to 25 experienced a major depressive episode, the study found.”Time.Com
And so we see there is a problem. This time of life should be a great time to be alive. Young people should be full of energy and excitement for the future. And yet depression and suicide are major problems the world is facing.
That doesn’t seem right.
Now I’m no expert and I definitely need to keep doing more research, but I believe in some ways these social ills are related to the fear and anxiety related to a changing world and big life changes. And I’m sure those pressures have always been there, however, the study did state that the figures showed a “dramatic decline”.
And perhaps the education systems we have need to take this into account.
Either way, there is a problem of how we prepare our kids for the future. So how do we go about that?
So what’s wrong?
Putting aside my ideas about what leads to social ills, Harari offers an insight into what’s wrong with the current education system, given the possible issues of the future. He argues:
“At present, too many schools focus on cramming information into kids’ brains … in the 21st century, we are flooded with enormous amounts of information … In such a world, the last thing a teacher needs to give her pupils is more information. They already have far too much of it. Instead, people need the ability to make sense of information, to tell the difference between what is important and what is unimportant, and, above all, to combine many bits of information into a broad picture of the world.”Harari
This I agree makes sense. Today we have mountains of information at our fingertips. We don’t need to be able to quote the dictionary, the encyclopedia, the atlas, or any almanac for guiding information. We have our smart helper in our pockets to do all that. However, what we do need is the mental capacity and the frameworks to help us make sense of the information and to use it. Otherwise, the problem is that all that technology ends up using us and that mountain of information becomes a wave we can’t deal with, which leads to the issues already stated.
However, this is not really new. As Harari even points out, liberal schools for some time have turned away from the old philosophies of teaching. Modern liberal teachers have often made the decision to free students. Their approach has been to provide access to the mountains of data and then let children think for themselves. (To varying degrees of success.)
He states that the general process has been something like:
“They’ve assumed that as long as we give students lots of data and a modicum of freedom, the students will create their own picture of the world, and even if this generation fails to synthesize all the data into a coherent and meaningful story about the world, there will be plenty of time to construct a better synthesis in the future.”Harari
And as a teacher, I feel this is a pretty fair analysis of how things are going.
We aim to give students access to the world, in fun and inspiring ways and try to teach them to understand it, or at least to put it into manageable chunks of knowledge. And we often know we can’t really accomplish the whole goal or turning out inspired and enlightened little future citizens who have the power to shape their lives and the world, but we do what we can and hope for the best.
What’s the problem?
As stated above – the world of the future is changing and we need to be much better prepared. That stress and anxiety society is feeling now, is only going to get a whole lot more when robots and AI start taking over huge industries. And while it’s stressful enough now for teens to wander about all the decisions of their future, how will it be when even 50 year olds are contemplating what they will be doing in the coming decades of their uncertain life.
And it’s getting more stressful, as Harari argues:
“We have now run out of time. The decisions we will make in the next few decades will shape the future of life itself, and we can make these decisions based only on our present worldview. If this generation lacks a comprehensive view of the cosmos, the future of life will be decided at random.”Harari
The Way Forward
What is The Future of Education?
So if we agree with this analysis of things, then we have to say that mastering content is not an effective way to educate kids for the future. Also, if we accept the issues raised, then the future of education is to solve these problems. Therefore we need to teach kids to get much better at adapting, being flexible and being able to apply their mental and emotional faculties. We need to enable students to evolve and adapt along with the changes of this strange new future.
What else for the future of education?
According to Harari,
“Besides information, most schools also focus too much on providing students with a set of predetermined skills, such as solving differential equations, writing computer code in C++, identifying chemicals in a test tube, or conversing in Chinese. Yet since we have no idea what the world and the job market will look like in 2050, we don’t really know what particular skills people will need.”Harari
He makes a reasonable argument. We don’t know what skills will be needed. Also, a lot of those skills will probably be able to be automated and done by machines that are more accurate, reliable and cost-effective. And though I don’t like to give everything over to the machines, I do think that the future will go that way.
So skills training is not the answer for the future of education.
Content’s not the answer, skills are unreliable, but we do know we will need students to be more flexible and resilient. I’m not sure we are entirely doing that. I mean resilience has been a catch phrase in the schools I’ve been in, so I know it’s around in the education system. However, we still see the horrible stat’s on bullying and depression, the need for more school psychologists and high rates of youth suicide in parts of the world. So there’s definitely more work to be done.
For more on these kind of isuses, read my article Education Success: What to Teach our Kids? for some ideas on where we may be letting them down.
Solutions for Future Education
Harari doesn’t really give the answer but he does point to what others are proposing.
Harari points out:
“Many pedagogical experts argue that schools should switch to teaching “the four Cs” — critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity. More broadly, they believe, schools should downplay technical skills and emphasize general-purpose life skills. Most important of all will be the ability to deal with change, learn new things, and preserve your mental balance in unfamiliar situations.Harari
The 4 C’s. I’ve never heard of them, but they do seem to be a reasonable idea as a framework for dealing with some of the big issues we’ve just raised. However, I don’t really know what that teaching looks like. I will do more research for the future.
From a quick investigation I’ve found:
“The 4Cs of school transformation are Communication, Collaboration, Creativity and Critical Reflection. These are the uniquely human skills that must be nurtured in order to thrive in the modern workplace and beyond. With the 4Cs approach, students develop greater capacities for grit, resilience, empathy, altruism and the ability to think and work with others.”Transformative Learning
And to be fair, I do believe that this is what a lot of schools are doing, to some degree. We are looking for communication, collaboration, creativity and critical reflection or thinking in many ways. However, I’m not sure we all do it consistently and with real efficacy and purpose, in a way that will really engage students explicitly about their lives and the future world they will inherit.
However, the reasoning behind this approach seems good, and I need to do more research before I can say any more about it.
A new Future of Education
The future world will be one immensely different to what we have today. And if we look at how many people are dealing with the world today with issues like rising obesity, drug addiction, and all that stress, to mention just a few, it seems we need to start preparing, because I don’t know if everyone is going to handle the future so well.
“To survive and flourish in such a world, you will need a lot of mental flexibility and great reserves of emotional balance. You will have to repeatedly let go of some of what you know best, and learn to feel at home with the unknown.”Harari
To deal with that unknown, perhaps the 4 C’s will help. However, I think we’re going to need to keep up some of the content and some of the skills, along with the 4 C’s, and also teach some some emotional intelligence, practical psychology and give them a stronger mental mindset, along with the physical education and so on… a lot to deal with.
Importance of the Future of Education
However, it is truly important that we engage with this issue of the future. As Harari very ominously alludes:
“As biotechnology and machine learning improve, it will become easier to manipulate people’s deepest emotions and desires, and it will become more dangerous than ever to just follow your heart. If you don’t know what you want in life, it will be all too easy for technology to shape your aims for you and take control of your life.”Harari
For me, and I would imagine most teachers would probably agree, this is a major issue. But from my experiences of observing real students and their interaction with technology and education, I believe they are more vulnerable than ever to the controlling powers of modern technology and those that wheal its power.
However, this may not be a problem. As Harari states:
“Of course, you might be perfectly happy ceding all authority to the algorithms and trusting them to decide things for you and for the rest of the world. If so, just relax and enjoy the ride. You don’t need to do anything about it. The algorithms will take care of everything.”Harari
However, if you want to maintain what we understand to be human free and human agency in the world, then we will need to start to get students to be more engaged. At the moment I see younger generations who automatically accept Google’s first suggestion, who know what is interesting because YouTube ranked it highly, and believe it’s valuable because Amazon gave it a good rating, and so on.
It will be an interesting future. I personally look forward to it. But for the sake of my son, I really feel like it’s time to start really rethinking the future of education.
Mission to Success
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If you are interested in these kind of issues, like how education can be improved to help us to be more successful. Or if learning how to live stronger, healthier, wealthier, wiser and happier is something you are interested in, I invite you to keep up to date with us here at Mission to Success.
Thanks for allowing me to share these ideas and I wish you all the best. Keep striving for success and the life you deserve.