Technological innovation is fundamentally demanding a transforming in education, and updating the skills required for the contemporary workplace. Building future-ready (and pandemic-proof) education systems requires designing curricula fit for the 21st century, coupled with the consistent delivery of a basic education for everyone that builds a solid foundation for a lifetime of adapting and developing new abilities. Specialized education should focus in particular on crucial Life-Skills, and address the disconnect between the realities of 21st-century life and existing instruction.
21st Century Curricula
Curricula are infrequently updated, and too often not adapted to the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the rapid changes brought on by natural phenomena like COVID and Global Warming.
Educational curricula that impart the knowledge and skills that are actually relevant to contemporary life, help build early learner identities, develop local and global citizenship values, and nourish core non-cognitive skills are essential.
Education creates the base for future re-skilling and self-actualization, and for civic identity. As noted in the World Economic Forum’s 2017 white paper Realizing Human Potential in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, educational curricula cannot remain fixed, as career paths change faster, and are less linear, than ever before.
There is wide-ranging consensus that no single skill set or area of expertise is likely to be able to sustain a long-term career in the economies of the future. Educational institutions need to provide both in-depth subject knowledge, and an ability to make inter-disciplinary connections.
The Forum’s 2016 report The Future of Jobs noted that the core skills of the 21st century - such as complex problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, and digital literacy - are important for enabling people to be flexible enough to adapt to the changing needs of the job market.
These skills are ideally developed early, in basic education, and then refined at colleges and universities as well as during lifelong learning. Future-ready curricula must deliver a strong base of foundational Humanities and STEM skills.
However, shifting demand for skills across industries will require that curricula be updated and adapted on a regular basis, as they are informed by the evolution of labour markets. Upgrades to curricula should be built into the system incrementally, thereby avoiding the excessive disruption and implementation time-lag associated with major, infrequent overhauls. In order to ensure that education remains job-relevant, it is critical that more emphasis is placed on collating insights from government, businesses, and civil society in the curriculum design process.
The scenario outlined here will be familiar to parents and to young people who have graduated high school or college since 2000. The 20th-century ended with social mores largely intact. The social, technological and human upheavals of the past 20 years weren't even being dreamed of, let alone foretold.
The degree and pace of societal change is if anything accelerating, yet school curricula has barely moved, excepting some innovative schools that lie largely on the fringe. Certainly mainstream education has stubbornly stuck to old the ways and the 20th-century methods of an institution that is doing everything possible to resist what seems obvious to parents and young people.
Quote from the Sydney Morning Herald, Jan 30, 2021, "The new challenges they’re coming up against also beckon new solutions. They’ve recognized that the existing leaders don’t have the answers and it’s going to take a new generation to solve them. As year 12 students commence their final chapter of school this week, many already have a clear agenda for change in mind." Read the article here.
Parents, educators, students, and curricula designers have an opportunity to collaborate and initiate the kind of change our young people desperately need.