Life is becoming increasingly less predictable. From the political volatility of Donald Trump and Brexit to the vast societal changes of globalisation, drastic, seismic change is in the air.
While unpredictability is already problematic for many, for future generations there are no signs of things calming. If we accept that the role of education is to furnish our children with the best understanding, skills and values for a prosperous and happy life, then how do we arm them for a future that we can’t imagine? Do we even need knowledge in a world of Alexa and Siri? Is the skill of agility now more valuable than the gaining of knowledge?
We’ve prioritised the acquisition of knowledge around what we assume society would deem most “worthy”. For much of history, knowledge was rooted in theology: it was about explaining the world in a supernatural way, seeing goodness as a tenet. The industrial revolution saw a vast shift away from this to a way of maximising return on investment in a production-centric environment. In recent years, we have considered maths, reading, and writing as the basic building blocks for survival; the best levers for our labour to produce value.
This value has, however, eroded over the years. Businesses have complained about the poor skills of school-leavers, and we’ve assumed the way forward is to ensure that more people study for longer. I think that the changing world means that we need to prepare kids in a totally different way. A 5-year-old today will enter a working world in 2030 that is so incomprehensible that we need an existential re-imagination of the very foundation of education. It’s the cliched hope of the paranoid parent that teaching Chinese will best prepare kids for a future of different power structures in geopolitics, but is that essential in a world of Google translate? Many thinking teaching kids to code is the solution, but won’t soon software be written by software? Our vision for the future needs to include more imagination. It’s staggering to me as to how much the world has changed, and how little education has. The digital age means a different world.
Think of people’s mental faculties as a set of concentric circles. At the core is the very essence of who we are: our values, how we think, what’s important to us, our personality and our behaviours. Over this layer, our skills are formed. Are we adaptable? Can we build relationships? Are we fast learning, good at music, great at languages, can we see things from different points of view? Around this we form technical abilities: the gathering of facts, vocabulary, and the processes of life.