Educating For The Future

Future Proofing Our Children

Artificial Intelligence, which is gathering pace & widely spoken of as ‘the Fourth Industrial Revolution’ is going to see our young people in the eye of a storm of change not witnessed since the advent of electricity. It is estimated that a fifth of the workforce will be automated by 2030 (that’s 800 million workers*) and it is likely that a huge number of the jobs our children end up in haven’t even been invented yet.

Whilst the future for our youngest citizens really is unknown and whilst there is evidently enormous and exciting potential in this, the more we can do to bring up our children to be flexible, to have transferable skills, to find and channel their passions, be able to spot opportunities and think laterally about how their skills might be applied, the more we are setting them up to thrive and succeed in a future, that almost certainly will look very different from today.

The days where you decide on a job in school and go on to a well trodden career path are over.  

Many education experts believe the content we must teach our kids should be aimed more at readying them for a future we don’t yet know - focusing on life skills and coping strategies.

But it goes way beyond being work-ready. We are already in the midst of a youth mental health crisis. 16 million people in the UK experience a mental illness and 75% of mental illnesses start before a child reaches their 18th birthday, whilst 50% of mental health problems in adult life (excluding dementia) take root before the age of 15. What’s more, 10% of school children aged 5-16 have a diagnosable mental illness, which is on average 3 in every class, yet 75% of these won’t be receiving any treatment.

News of the generations at the end of the educational process also ring alarm bells. For example, between 2010 and 2017, teenage suicides rose in England by 67% and suicide is the biggest killer of young people in the UK. The Varkey Foundations’ ‘international mental well-being survey’ of ….. found that for 15- 21 year olds in 20 countries the UK was ranked 19 out of 20 – Japan being the lowest.

Helping build our children’s internal wellbeing, resilience and adaptability is critical in giving our youngest citizens the emotional toolkit required to thrive in the future.

Say’s Oliver Pickup in his piece for Raconteur entitled, ‘Educating Children for the Jobs of the Future’: “Human skills, such as creativity, originality and initiative, critical thinking, persuasion and negotiation will retain or increase their value, as will attention to detail, resilience, flexibility and complex problem-solving.”

Whilst of course it’s important to be able to read and write, we need our children to grow up thinking creatively and move away from the idea of tick-box success. It’s easy to celebrate 10/10 in a spelling test but, this cult of tick box perfection stifles our youngest minds and makes them feel that anything less than perfection and recounting the ‘right’ answer to a set question means that they aren’t  ‘clever’. What about the child who gets 5/10 but then comes home determined to do better, tries hard and gets 6/10 the following week? Celebrating striving, going at YOUR pace, still giving things your best shot if they don’t come easy, is worthy of a lot of celebrating.

Equally, the role of ‘play’ is critical in developing these skills and “Lord Jim Knight, chief education adviser at Tes Global, a network for educational professionals, strongly believes traditional curricula need to be overhauled in the UK. Moreover, young people should be allowed to play for as many years as possible because they will learn and develop skills that will be essential to flourish at work and home in the coming years.” (Ranconteur, Educating Children for the Jobs of the Future, December 2018, by Oliver Pickup)

In 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, Yuval Noah Harari writes that we need to be arming children with The Four C’s to thrive in the future: Critical Thinking, Communication, Collaboration & Creativity.

Increasingly people skills and relationship building is at the heart of success in the future. How well we build relationships, negotiate our views in a way that doesn’t demean others, lead a team by inspiring them etc are as important as what degree we get, or exam qualifications.

The wonderful Sir Ken Robinson (educationalist and author) believes that knowledge isn’t power: imagination is. In the Element, he argues that we should provide an environment where children can discover their true passions and deep interests, by using their imaginations. They should be encouraged to use divergent, lateral thinking, use metaphors and analogies and make fresh connections, not as doled out by one adult at the front, but by experiment and interaction.

Robinson talks of intelligence as diverse and dynamic, and of how imagination and creativity are what help us tap into our sources of energy. When a child loses track of time in an activity, it is often a sign that they have been inspired in some way; this provides a sense of freedom and authenticity. Doing what we love and are good at is part of our essential nature and makes for happier more balanced adults.

By helping our children feel OK about what makes them different and encouraging them to actively use their childhoods and educational experience to find what ‘makes them tick’ before they journey on a 50 year career journey that that doesn’t resonate with who they are, is a huge gift to give our children.

*McKinsey Global Institute

The World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report 2018 is available here: https://www.weforum.org/reports/the-future-of-jobs-report-2018