Are schools developing the right skills for children's futures?

Published 1st April 2019 by Frog Education


Technological advances have driven enormous change over the last 50 years and we can expect the pace to continue. This has far-reaching effects on everyday life. The way we communicate, do business, socialise, learn and work have progressed and transformed, sending ripples of change through all sectors of society - including education.

What do our children's futures look like?

A World Economic Forum report recently estimated that 65% of children starting primary school today will be doing jobs that don’t yet exist. This is a surprising revelation and prompts the question – how will schools prepare students for the future workplace? If we can’t know exactly what the jobs will be or the skills required to do them, how can schools prepare children and open their eyes to future opportunities?

This is the concern that prompted action from the World Economic Forum. They created a report to understand the skills that an emerging workforce will need. By evaluating the future labour market from the perspective of some of the biggest employers around the world, they hope the findings will “incentivise and enhance partnerships between governments, educators, training providers, workers and employers”. With the overall aim to prepare for the significant impact the Fourth Industrial Revolution will have on employment, skills and education.


How can children affect their own futures?

The truth is, with the pace of change increasing, no-one can be sure what the future will look like for our children. And this change is not only the result of technological advances. Throw into the mix the unknown long-term consequences of Brexit and world-wide effects of climate change, and we are in unchartered territory. These are global issues that will have the biggest impact on our younger generations.

Instead of preparing children with skills for a future we don’t exactly know – should we be doing more to help them develop a mindset to deal with an undetermined and evolving future? Can we help them, not just by identifying the future skills they need, but by engaging them in conversations around these bigger issues?

You could say this has been recognised and previously addressed in 2002 when Citizenship lessons were introduced to the National Curriculum. The subject aims to develop students’ knowledge, skills and understanding of their role in society as an active and responsible citizen. Recent action taken by school pupils to strike over climate change (inspired by Swedish school girl, Greta Thunberg) would suggest the lessons are getting through. And although there are no official figures on the number of school-aged children who attended the ‘Put it to the People’ march over Brexit, there is organised support from the student community.

The problem with millennials

Preparing children for their future roles in society – according to Simon Sinek – is something we have previously failed on. In a recent interview he talks about millennials, the generation born after 1984, and how their sense of entitlement is making them dissatisfied in the workplace and leading them to quit. He blames failed parenting strategies that have told children they can do anything and they can have anything. A mindset reinforced by the instant gratification that technology now offers us. Once they graduate into the real world and realise this is not reality (“there are no medals for participation”) they consequently suffer low self-esteem and job dissatisfaction.

Sinek argues that we need to prepare children for the “long road” that requires continuous effort to develop the strength in relationships that will help them succeed. He explains that children are growing up with the summit clearly in view but they don’t see the climb to get there.

The 4c's of 21st Century Learning

It is less important, therefore, to teach skills for particular jobs (which are still unknown) and more important to teach the skills that will help children navigate their futures in a changing economy. These skills have been identified as the 4Cs of 21st Century learning (critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity).

These skills can only be learned through experience; by children’s engagement and participation. Instead of asking what children should be taught in schools, it is perhaps more pertinent to focus on how children should be taught. This is already at the forefront of education with the increasing use of edtech and gamification of learning which is helping to drive student engagement and makes day-to-day use of technologies that will be paramount in the future workplace.


Is knowledge-based curriculum redundant?

A shift in thinking about how children are taught has never been so important as we move from a knowledge-based society to one where everything can now be looked up. The wealth of information so readily available, however, will not always provide the answer. Valuable skills are needed to find, understand, interpret and evaluate this information.

Rose Luckin, Professor at UCL, would agree when she argues that the continued use of a knowledge-based curriculum is naïve. Schools need to focus on inter-disciplinary learning and problem-solving, to help pupils think about how knowledge is constructed and encourage them to challenge facts.


The long-haul approach to learning

The right skills for our children’s futures will be the ones that prepare them to deal with continuous change. It is more important than ever to inspire a healthy attitude to continued learning and an understanding that, although the future is unknown, it can be made more navigable with skills that help individuals adapt and develop as technology advances at pace.

Schools can keep up by making effective use of technologies that will be standard in the future workplace, encouraging a positive work ethos to succeed over the long-term and helping children develop an engaged mindset.



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