When I was a kid, my teachers had a pretty good idea what knowledge and skills I needed to master in order to prepare for my future. The world was changing and new innovations were being developed, but the pace of change was somewhat predictable and steady. The average person assumed innovations would make tasks easier or more efficient, but life would continue much as it had in the past. My fellow students and I learned our arithmetic and worked on improving our skill at reading and writing. We dutifully learned about photosynthesis, and memorized important events in history. The majority of us moved along through school with the goal of someday selecting a job from a list of well-known career options.
Today, the pace of change has accelerated to a point where innovation is significantly altering the world around us on a regular basis. The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that 65% of school children today will eventually be employed in jobs that have yet to be created. Unlike my teachers, the teachers of today have the job of preparing students for a rapidly changing, and uncertain future, one where the list of career choices is yet to be written.
Tony Wagner of Harvard University interviewed hundreds of CEOs in business, non-profits and educational institutions to find out what they identified as the most important survival skills required for the 21st century. From their answers, Wagner compiled a list of seven skills that people will need to survive and thrive in the 21st century:
Skill #1: Critical thinking and problem solving
Skill #2: Collaboration across networks and leading by influence preparation
Skill #3: Agility and adaptability preparation
Skill #4: Initiative and entrepreneurship preparation
Skill #5: Effective oral and written communication preparation
Skill #6: Accessing and analyzing information preparation
Skill #7: Curiosity and imagination preparation
The point is, schools today must focus not just on whether students have learned material, but where it will take students later. There is no one magic solution that will prepare students today for tomorrow’s workforce, but giving students a well-rounded education that emphasizes creative and critical thinking skills along with the ability to work well with others and adapt to new circumstances will provide our students the foundational skills to succeed. It’s not really enough to know things these days; you have to be able to do things with what you know.