Looking back, most things from the 80s seem pretty suboptimal by today’s standards. VHS video was terrible quality. People were smoking on airplanes and in teacher lounges. And mullets, perms, and animal print parachute pants…say no more.
It’s impossible to imagine how 2019 will look in 2049. But today’s status quo is guaranteed to look old, suboptimal and kind of ridiculous. What we are doing now, the way we are living our lives, the way we are delivering education is, possibly, the best we can do at the moment.
But it’s not ideal. There are better ways. The people of tomorrow will live this enhanced experience.
And if we genuinely open ourselves up to possibilities, there’s a chance for us to not only glimpse the future, but to help create it.
There’s a great idiom in French that says: “Les carottes sont cuites!” – The carrots are cooked! – There is nothing that can be done to change the situation.
There are times when this is true. And there are times when it just feels true.
Sometimes, the carrots are in the water but haven’t actually started to cook. Sometimes, the carrots are half-cooked but still crunchy. And sometimes, the carrots are cooked, but they’re still carrots – different but okay.
When unexpected change happens, there is often a kind of concussion – we feel stunned and stilled. But eventually, we have to make a choice. We can lean back, longingly, into the past, hoping to ‘unchange’ the situation. Or we can step forward, hopefully, into future possibilities.
It might not change much, but even one step causes a slightly shifted perspective, a slightly changed situation.
[PS In 2015 an Australian scientist won a Nobel prize for his discovery of how to uncook an egg. I imagine it’s much harder to uncook a carrot.)
In New York in September 2015, 193 member countries of the United Nations General Assembly ratified a vision for a brighter future; the Global Goals for Sustainable Development.
In essence, the 17 SDGs constitute humanity’s consensus for how we hope to develop as a species over the next decade.
The SDG’s include the eradication of global poverty and hunger, and reduced inequality.
If this is what we, as collective humans, have determined is our desired future, surely there is no clearer purpose of education than to equip young people with the skills and knowledge to help us move towards these goals.
If we are not educating to shape a better world, what are we doing?
The best educators are so because they are students of their craft. No one is born a great teacher. Like all complex crafts, it takes thousands of hours of practice and years of experience to hone world-class teaching practice.
Great teachers are constantly seeking to sharpen their skills. They know they can continue to improve and so they work hard to become 5 or 10% better each year.
And when you ask one of these top teachers: “Is it possible for you to, one day, be twice as good as you are now?”, they invariably say ‘Yes’. And even more interestingly, they can describe what this would look like.
They have already envisaged this reality.
This future reality is the source-code of innovation in education.
There’s a billboard on the main freeway in Dubai that reads: “The future belongs to those who can imagine it, design it, and execute it.”
A similar sentiment was echoed by renowned business thinker and author, Peter Drucker, who said, “The only way to predict the future is to create it.”
This ability, of great leaders, to shape the future, begins with them being able to articulate their vision in words. These words paint a picture for others that catalyses action and orientates behaviours.
JFK says: “We choose to go to the moon in this decade“, and a new, shared vision is realised. Martin Luther King says: “I have a dream…“, and his dream becomes our vision too.
Having worked with dozens of school leaders around the world, I see, in the best of them, this same ability to help paint a picture of an exciting, brighter future. When a picture of the future is clear enough and inspiring enough, it can be wonderfully infectious. And then, it’s amazing how an idea, dream, or vision of the future can be willed into reality.
At the 2019 World Government Summit in Dubai last week, Daniel Kahneman, the Nobel Prize winning psychologist and economist, delivered an enlightening and sobering prediction about the future impact of Artificial Intelligence.
“I really do not see any specific human skill that, given enough data, machines will be unable to learn…We have a brain, it’s a very, very good brain and it operates beautifully. But whatever that brain does there is going to be machinery that is going to match it and exceed it.”
This impending future is only decades away. And so it is critical that schools, leaders and educators act now to reconsider core educational priorities. Schools will only remain relevant if they can evolve to provide a platform focussed on the development of complex, creative, adaptable, and deeply human skills.
Fact: many of the jobs that students entering primary school today will be doing in 2030 don’t exist yet. The accelerating impact of technology and automation is both eliminating and creating new types of work. Depending on which study you read, the estimates of 2030 jobs that haven’t been invented yet range from 20% all the way up to 85%. And on current trends, our children of today will likely have multiple careers and continue up-skilling and re-skilling throughout their lives.
Already we’re seeing evidence of shifting work patterns. The 2018 Deloitte Millennial Survey shows that 43% of millennials expect to leave their jobs within two years.
So what does all of this mean for today’s educators? Perhaps the most important realisation is that we need to have a much greater emphasis on transferable skill development that enables resilience, flexibility and interconnection. Four key future-oriented skill areas are:
- Self-efficacy – belief in one’s ability to succeed in specific situations or accomplish a task through hard work, creativity and adaptation;
- Interpersonal skills – the ability to influence, negotiate, forgive, co-create, and empathise;
- Ethical decision making – being able to consistently behave in line with one’s core values, even when it’s inconvenient or hard;
- Critical thinking – actively conceptualising, applying, analysing, synthesising, and/or evaluating information.
This is not a complete list, but all of these will be absolutely critical factors contributing to the future success of our students.
These are skills that need lots of development, scaffolding and practice. But that’s okay – because quality teachers have recognised this and are already deeply embedding these skills into most, if not all, lessons.