The Australian bushfires. Brexit. The assassination of Qasem Soleimani. What these three events of the 21st century have in common is that they are not unprecedented in their various combinations of scale, impact and unpredictability. The world is forever undergoing dramatic and sudden change. However, “globalization” means that the worldwide effect of local events can be fast and widespread. The 21st century is giving us a lot to think about – from pandemics to iPads to pandas.
What does this mean for education?
Well, we cannot predict the future, but we can help prepare our children for it. I am reliably informed that a week of the Times newspaper today contains more information than an educated person in the 18th century was likely to come across in a lifetime. Greater quantities of unique, new information will be generated worldwide this year than the whole of the last 5,000 years. The amount of new technical information is doubling every year. (By 2025 it is will be every 72 hours.)
It has been suggested that students starting a three-year university degree could find half of what they learned in their first term is out of date by the end of their studies.
Many of today’s degree courses hardly existed ten years ago. (Think – New Media, organic agriculture, e-business, nanotechnology… There is even a degree in Ethical Hacking at a Scottish university.) What will students study in ten years’ time? I defy anyone to predict accurately what our world will be like in five years’ time – we can barely imagine the world of 2030 into which today’s Year 3 children – seven years old at the start of the year – will emerge as adults. But it is our job to equip them to cope in that world, and to flourish.
Conventional training won’t do when careers now rarely follow a set course. Instead, transferable skills, particularly a lifelong learning habit and an ability to work collaboratively, will be critical to young peoples’ future happiness and prosperity.
This places a premium on thinking skills. The curriculum and teaching should enable children to discover how to learn as well as what to learn. We must help them develop learning strategies, thinking and communication techniques, and personal skills.
Those considered literate in the future will be creative individuals able to learn, unlearn and learn again – throughout their lives. Nurturing enquiry, building the confidence to question and debate, and encouraging children to work collaboratively lie at the core of this approach. We should aim to give pupils the expertise to take advantage of every opportunity life presents and to adapt positively to new circumstances.
How do we deliver this?
A rich and varied curriculum that naturally incorporates thinking skills. “Enrichment” modules such as learning strategies, thinking skills, reading and writing skills, and personal skills such as presentation and collaborative skills. And varied and creative teaching.
Learning should also push beyond the curriculum “givens”: for instance, with the teaching of philanthropy, or “intelligent giving”; compassion; sustainability and environmental programmes; and the development of children’s’ EQ (Emotional Quotient).
If we get it right, our children will emerge as imaginative, compassionate and intelligent young people, fit to be the leaders of tomorrow.
Who knows? In twenty years’ time, when once again continents blaze, when once again politicians dissemble and fail, when once again the world teeters on the brink of war – it will be those Year 3s of today who are equipped not only to think and act intelligently and find workable solutions – but to avert disaster in the first place. I hope so.
By John Baugh, Director, St Andrew’s School, Turi.