“Children are our most valuable resource.” – Herbert Hoover, 31st President of the United States.
The work of the future will involve human beings collaborating with other human beings to design work for machines.
The current educational system we have was designed for the 20th century. It is mostly based on getting children to retain information and manipulate numbers. The assessment designed around it measures these abilities and offers rewards on the basis of the attainment of the propensity for those skills: You are given admission into good schools, promised a secure career and told that you would have a successful life.
Those skills count for nothing these days. Why bother memorising information when with a few clicks and keystrokes, vaults of information are at your disposal? We all have the equivalent of supercomputers in our hands; recalling information and carrying out numerical tasks are now automated.
Recently, I was discussing current trends in education with the Dean of the School of Engineering, Delaware University, in the United States and he stated that he doesn’t value the retention of information; that practically most of what is taught in schools can be accessed through Google searches. He values critical thinking skills and problem solving skills more, as the world is changing at a fast pace.
It is plain that we need to rethink education in Nigeria. Our kids are guaranteed to deal with a much different world than we live in now. A study in Oxford stated that close to half of the jobs that exist today will be automated in the next 20 years. For our children to be future-ready, we need to fix our outdated education system and replace this with one that fosters STEM skills like teamwork, communication and exploration.
Teamwork (aka collabo)
According to convention, schoolwork is all about an individual’s accomplishment. A student studies at home alone, gets ready for assessment and undertakes it without help. Looking for external help is termed cheating and one gets into a lot of trouble for this. The focus then is on self achievement.
Invariably, as we all know, everything always changes, especially in highly technical fields. In 1920, most scientific papers were authored by a single person. This changed by the 1950s. People began to work together and co-authorship became the norm. It is not unusual these days to see at least four authors for a paper and there is far more interdisciplinary work being done now. The interesting twist is that these collaborations are done across thousands of miles now.
There is amazing work being done by teams and it will only increase as more jobs become automated. The jobs of the future aren’t likely to depend on specific expertise or numbers crunching, they would very likely have to do with people working together in teams designing work for machines.
We should notice the clear shift, and the valuable skills will be from cognitive skills to social skills. Hence, we desperately need to shift the focus of our schools to collaboration, play and interpersonal skills.
Better Communication Skills
What we need to improve on the most are communication skills. This is to understand why advanced technologies are being applied to fields as diverse as medicine, finance and even music. It takes more than just technical skills, but requires computer scientists to work effectively with experts in a wide variety of fields.
A lot of IT firms now evaluate programmers by their technical and communication skills, initiative and teamwork. Clear and concise writing, critical thinking and the ability to always learn to take in disparate facts, put them in context and express them clearly – these are the critical skills that will be the deal-breakers for future professionals.
Focus Upon Higher Level Maths-learning Patterns
Arithmetic has always been the bane of most students at schools: Division, multiplication tables, word problems and hard formulas to memorise. Geometry? Trignometry? These are Greek as far as many are concerned. We do everything from memory and in long hand. These days it seems counter-intuitive that we don’t utilise calculators when teaching mathematics, particularly when they are all around us – on phones, computers, etc.
Mathematical skills are highly essential, however the skills that are necessary for the future aren’t the ones being emphasised at school i.e. counting, multiplication, to name just a few. What is critical is the ability to deduce meaning from data.
It has been said that “Schools are still stuck on teaching 20th century maths for building things, rather than 21st century maths for understanding things.” There ought be more focus on the mathematics of patterns (e.g. set theory, graph theory, etc.) This is a shift to higher level maths. The great mathematician, G.H. Hardy put it thus: “A mathematician, is like a painter or a poet, is a maker of patterns. If his patterns are more permanent than theirs, it is because they are made with ideas.”
More Emphasis Upon Exploration Than Knowledge
At the end of the school term children are expected to know dates of historical events, mathematical formulas, the name of specific biological structures, etc. However knowledge is dynamic now, and a lot that we know now will be obsolete by the time our children are working.
The notion that education prepares you for a career is now out of sync with reality. We need to prepare our children for a world that we don’t understand clearly yet ourselves. It is certainly beyond our grasp to make judgements about the information they will need to have at this point in time.
What we should do, instead of filling their minds with redundant knowledge, is to equip them with the ability to explore things for themselves, take in new information, make sense of it and communicate what they’ve learnt with others.
As technology takes over more tasks that were distinctly human, these are the skills that will be most crucial.
As things go haywire all about us, it is essential we teach our children how to adapt to the brave new world.
That is what we need to prepare our kids to do.
Help us with our mission to bring about change for our students. Please contact me to see what we can do to bring about the desired transformation that we all desire for our children to be future ready!!!
Adetola Salau; Educator / Speaker / Author/ Social Entrepreneur / Innovator
She is an Advocate of STEM Education and is Passionate about Education reform. She is an innovative thinker and strives for our society & continent as a whole to reclaim it’s greatness. She runs an educational foundation with the mission to transform education.