Friday, 21 October 2016

'Need a job? Invent it!’

A little while ago an old student of mine sent me a New York Times article written by Thomas L. Friedman entitled, ‘Need a Job? Invent It!’ This provocative title deeply resonated with me as it is clearly apparent that the days of assuming our young people will transition from school or university into jobs has long gone. It’s tough out there and the ‘playing field’ has changed.

Friedman quotes an executive he interviewed as saying, “We can teach new hires the content, and we will have to because it continues to change, but we can’t teach them how to think-to ask the right questions-and to take initiative.”

People like Edward de Bono have always believed thinking and creativity are skills that can be taught and learnt! This is very evident to us as well and we believe the exponential change our children will face, demands that these skills have the same focus and currency as the core skills of numeracy and literacy.

After saying that, we can’t underestimate the importance of the basic skills and these need to be fostered with rigour drawing on the best practice available. We need a school system that values questions above answers, creativity over fact regurgitation and excellence above mediocrity.

What is exciting, is that once this is recognised, across the board academic outcomes trend upwards.
According to Friedman, Finland is one of the most innovative economies in the world and it is the only country where students leave high school ‘innovation-ready’. They learn concepts and creativity more than facts.” Intelligence is not enough. Creativity, or the ability to think divergently, can be developed and improved. It’s a learnable process. 

Good questions to ask ourselves as educators are: How do we prepare our young people for a world beyond our imagination? How do we craft a student’s learning journey towards a job that has not yet been created?  What are these skills or dispositions and what is the journey we need to take children on to give them real learning power?

We believe they are a collection of attitudes and behaviours. Skills such as perseverance, flexibility, questioning, curiosity, creativity, abstract thinking, reflection, resilience and optimism.  I like Guy Claxton’s metaphor of a school as a mind gym v an assembly line. The concept of imagining the mind as a muscle you can build is appealing. This is not about getting rid of content but going deeper and providing a broader utility.

We want to prepare our children to become brave new explorers in this exciting fast paced world. The learning to learn skill set described so far are not new features of ‘best practice’ education but they do need ongoing honing and consideration on the best way to facilitate them to our children.

Learning should be ‘hard fun’ where there is engagement, passion and purpose.