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Educating Our Children For The Future

2019-06-26 Nick Bowley

A phrase that we often hear used is future-oriented education. This is usually defined as the kind of education we should offer today’s children in order to prepare them for tomorrow’s world. 

I used to agree with this definition. We certainly need to prepare our children for the future. However, as I see the future rushing towards us I now believe that a more proactive definition is required. I now think that future-oriented education is the kind of education we should offer today’s children in order for them to understand what the future may hold and to play an active role in shaping that future.

This begs the obvious question: how can we know what the future will hold? Well, nobody can know that for certain, but here are some of my own predictions:

  • Without aggressive intervention, the environment will continue to degrade at an accelerating and alarming pace.ce.

  • Artificial intelligence will dominate our lives in many ways: some good, some bad.

  • People will not follow one career path throughout their working lives as they often have in the past.

  • The chasm between richly-rewarding jobs (in terms of both pay and self-actualization) and unsatisfying, casual jobs will continue to grow.

If we can accept those predictions for now, what are the educational implications for our children? Surprisingly, perhaps, success in the future will require us to provide a combination of progressive and traditional approaches to education. Here are some key features:

1.Young children should experience learning through investigative play, followed by self-directed inquiry and research as they grow older. Adult work will require expertise in research and project development in years to come. The days of simply telling children what to learn and how to learn it are already past.

2. Life and career satisfaction will increasingly require high-level thinking skills. As machines learn how to think, then how to think about thinking, and also how to refine their fine motor skills (yes, these developments are already well underway!) there will be little reward for those people whose thinking lags behind. Education in advanced critical reasoning skills, currently taught in too few schools, will command increasing respect. So too will advanced cognitive and academic skills in the child’s mother tongue and additional languages; quality of language and quality of thought are inextricably linked.

3. Reading will retake its place at the heart of the curriculum. Strangely, in many parts of the world the amount and depth of reading required of children has declined, as if the act of sustained reading was too heavy a burden for them. It is not. Children who do not read books are known to fall behind in cognitive processes such as critical thinking, imagination and empathy, and we must not allow this to happen.

4. Education on how to alleviate threats to the environment at the personal, local, national, and global level will be (already is) an absolute necessity. 

5. Social and emotional education must be in the forefront of education. In an increasingly interconnected world, the skills of self-awareness and self-management, empathy, and collaboration with others in effective teams will be highly valued. A pre-occupation with “self” is tempting for young people, but is ultimately unfulfilling and unconducive to the health of society. 

6. The future will reward those who are cultured and have a profound understanding of world and human affairs. An appreciation of the arts, mathematics, the history of science and philosophy should contribute to every child’s education.

7. What about technical and technological education in schools? Yes, of course! But before long AI machines will become self-designing, self-maintaining and self-improving. Within this context the technological skills taught in schools, combined with those of critical and creative thinking, will need to be at a very high level. 

My main apprehension is that in many schools and school systems around the world the fusion of traditional and progressive approaches to learning is not seen as acceptable. Many schools are progressive, many are traditional, but too few see value in combining the strengths of both. Only those that do can educate the whole person, and in tomorrow’s world we will need those people to guide human affairs. The future will not create itself.

Well, that's my opinion. If you think differently, I would love to hear from you. nick.bowley@yuechengeducation.co


With warm regards,

Nick Bowley

Superintendent