“I believe that current formal education still prepares students primarily for the world of the past, rather than for possible worlds of the future….[we have] not yet figured out how to prepare youngsters so that they can survive and thrive in a world different from one ever known or even imagined before.” Howard Gardner
“Our ever-increasing global interconnection has changed the context of our existence, while globalization continues to change the face of our planet and the challenges that we, as a species, must face. Education must now respond to the need for new types of knowledge and very different skill sets. It must also provide learning experiences that foster the development of engaged and active global citizens if we ever hope to address the issues that threaten our future—global warming, international conflict and inequities in resource distribution around the world.
Building New Skills
Schools today cannot prepare the next generation for a specific set of circumstances, since we are unable to predict even with modest accuracy what the future will hold1“. But in [[http://changelearning.ca/get-informed/education-today-and-tomorrow|educating for today and tomorrow]] we can provide our students with the skills and attitudes they will need to adapt and survive in dynamic and interconnected environments. Globalization means that even the skills and literacies we consider to be basic have changed. “When no group can remain isolated from the rest of the world, respect for those of a different background and appearance becomes vital, even essential, rather than simply a polite option2”. Our interconnected and mobile world now demands that youth be “global trade literate, sensitive to foreign cultures and conversant in different languages3.”
And beyond the basics, addressing the problems of the present and the challenges of the future means cultivating entrepreneurial and innovative capacities4 in today’s students. The complexity of the problems facing humanity requires a level of problem-solving skills never before imagined. Environmental crises, rising global inequities, human rights issues, access to water and food security are just some of the looming challenges that upcoming generations will have to manage if our species is to survive. Schools must move beyond being instruments of transmission to being hotbeds for sparking innovation, creativity and ingenuity. We must stop [[http://changelearning.ca/get-informed/understanding-human-learning/born-learn/adolescence/building-wrong-skills|building the wrong skills]] in our youth and create learning experiences that move past memorization, linear thinking and right answers. “What ensures our survival is adapting and creating options. A typical classroom narrows our thinking strategies and answer options. Educators who insist on singular approaches and ‘the right answer’ are ignoring what has kept our species around for centuries5.”
What and How We Teach
The rate of change in our world and the explosion of available information creates a very different context for what schools teach and how it is taught. First and foremost, youth need to understand the world they live in and the world they are inheriting. Instead of an optional class in world issues, global realities need to be infused throughout education. From math to economics to chemistry to art—the world we live in must become our curriculum and real world problems, projects and questions must become the raw material of authentic, [[http://changelearning.ca/get-informed/understanding-human-learning/how-humans-learn-best/emphasize-experiential-learning|experiential learning]].
And getting that raw material from textbooks that become outdated at the time of printing and reflect narrow curriculum guidelines is not good enough. Textbooks and teachers can’t possibly “teach” students all there is to know about our world. For us to keep up with the rate of change we are experiencing and the amount of information around us, teachers need to shift from being transmitters of facts to facilitators of knowledge acquisition about the issues that effect student lives. Information is power and schools must provide learning experiences that challenge perspectives, broaden awareness and encourage a deep understanding of constantly changing issues. These are also the learning experiences that align with [[how humans learn best]] and the process and purpose of [[adolescence]].
“While there is no question that the past informs the future to some degree, we are currently in a situation where the past in our curriculum is crowding out the future almost entirely. If we are to prepare our children to be successful in the 21st century, this situation cannot continue. Learning about the future, including subjects like media literacy, programming, on-line collaboration and problem-solving, genetics, protonomics, nanotechnology, bioethics, prediction, adaptation and environmental science ought to comprise at least half of the curriculum6. Mark Prensky
Creating Engaged Citizens
Education has long been acknowledged as a cornerstone of developing an informed and active citizenry – and that need has grown from national to global in scope. We know the power of education to influence and shape society. What we need to recognize is the potential for our education system to be a powerful force in shaping our future.
“In the interconnected world in which the vast majority of human beings now live, it is not enough to state what each individual or group needs to survive on its own turf. In the long run, it is not possible for parts of the world to thrive while others remain desperately poor and deeply frustrated. Recalling the words of Benjamin Franklin, “We must indeed all hang together, or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately7.” Howard Gardner
What we do or choose not to do is shaped by our beliefs about how the world works. Each of us carries a set of assumptions about the world that acts like a filter for our ideas and actions. Key assumptions in the predominant world view – that human violence is inevitable, natural resources are endless and consumerism is a right – shape what we learn, how we think and our willingness to act8. And our beliefs about whether or not we are powerless to affect change is reflected in our willingness to participate – in elections, discussions and organizations that work for change.
“We could give [students] many other opportunities – cleaning up the environment, caring for the aged, tutoring younger peers – if we used our imagination and thought about public schooling a bit differently than we do. Schooling is preparation for adult citizenship, but one’s engagement with the larger society does not have to be deferred until one leaves school. It can and should begin in school, where it can be guided by skilled professionals and linked to one’s intellectual development”. Charles Ungerleider
1 Charles Ungerleider. [[http://changelearning.ca/books/failing-our-kids-how-we-are-ruining-our-public-schools|Failing Our Kids: How we are Ruining our Public Schools]]. McClelland & Stewart, 2003
2 Howard Gardner, [[http://changelearning.ca/books/five-minds-future|Five Minds for the Future]], Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2006, p11.
3 “How to Bring US Schools into the 20th Century”. Time Magazine, Dec 18, 2006.
4 Terry Ryan, [[http://changelearning.ca/articles/new-economys-impact-learning|The New Economy’s Impact on Learning]]. 21st Century Learning Initiative, 2000.
5 Eric Jenson, [[http://changelearning.ca/books/teaching-brain-mind|Teaching with the Brain in Mind]]. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD), 1998.
6 Mark Prensky [[http://www.google.ca/search?q=Some+people+hold+the+mistaken+view+that+public+schooling+is+about+training+students+for+the+future%2C+rather+than+about+educating+for+the+future.+++Although+&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&aq=t&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a|Open letter to the Gates Foundation]], on the topic of curriculum reform and education for the 21st century, 2006.
7 Gardner, as above.
8 [[http://changelearning.ca/ideas/cultivating-peace-taking-action-free-teaching-resource-active-global-citizenship-youth|Cultivating Peace in the 21st Century]], [[http://www.classroomconnections.ca/|Classroom Connections]], 2002.