“The illiterate of the 21st Century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”
~ Alvin Toffler
The future is discussed by prescient leaders but made and molded by youth. Over the past few months, we’ve conducted research, kept aware of the news cycles, and watched young voices emerge as global leaders. What we see is possibility and responsibility, particularly with respect to how we are educating them to succeed and lead. For better or worse, the educational decisions we make today will most certainly impact our societies and economies in the coming decades. For our own good, the youngest members of society deserve our efforts to improve education.
We’ve compiled some of that thinking here, pulling from blog posts that our readers have enjoyed and shared the most. What you’ll see in this collection is that what happens in 2040 hinges on how we educate those who today are merely babies in diapers, kids on the playground, and teenagers more focused on their new driver’s license than their retirement.
Real-World Education Integrates Machine Coworkers
Machines are learning more and more, and are doing it much faster than their human counterparts. One tried and true way to keep up is to start early — and we are. Babies entertain themselves with tablets even before they can walk. But familiarity isn’t going to be enough to level the human-machine playing field. Machines will continue to advance faster than people, so success 20 years from now demands our leaders in government, education, and industry start serious discourse and action now.
As it’s structured today, education poses some serious hurdles for new learners. The high cost of post-secondary education is one of the biggest. According to Forbes, 44 million Americans hold $1.5 trillion in student debt. We have a generation essentially mortgaging their future financial stability.
The long amount of time it takes to get a degree is also a concern. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, about 60% of first-time, full-time undergraduate students who began seeking a bachelor’s degree in fall 2010 earned a degree — in six years. The situation has many students and families questioning if higher education is possible or worth the cost and time.
The subject of free college is an ongoing point of discussion, but what may make more sense is to start with the question about whether or not college or skills-based college substitutes are better options than traditional educational pathways.
Both the current college framework and alternative training measures should be honed to provide more preparation for a fulfilled 60 to 80-year life. Read more.
Harness a Kindergarten’s Innate Creativity and Critical Thinking
Do you know what happens if you create a competition where a group of kindergarteners and a group of post-graduate students are asked to build a structure of 20 sticks of spaghetti, one yard of tape, one yard of string, and one marshmallow where the marshmallow on top must be on the top? The kindergarteners typically win. In his TED Talk, “Build a Tower, Build a Team,” Tom Wujec reveals that kindergartners typically do the best on this challenge. The reason is that kids rarely jockey for power in the group. They collaborate freely and naturally. They are more comfortable with iteration than their adult competitors who are inclined to spend the majority of their 18 minutes sharpening the proverbial ax and only a couple actually getting the structure built. Children are not constrained by experiences. When left to their own devices, they are inclined to approach the problem in a way that is creative and cross-disciplinary, not linear and results-focused, leading them to completely fresh solutions.
At some point in our education, most of us allow linear thinking and learning to squelch creative and critical thinking skills. Always proponents of orthogonal thinking, Alvin and Heidi Toffler highlighted the benefit of an empirical model wherein people work in their area as they learn. The approach would teach our future workforce to view a problem, dismantle it, and rebuild concepts and questions on the path to discovering original ways to solve the issue. Read more.
Prepare for the Future in Academics and Application
Thanks to the constant news cycle, social media and our current state of hyperconnectivity, our students are more informed than ever about issues like geopolitical warfare, climate change, and global health. And what’s more, today’s youngest advocates are younger than ever. They’re proving to be globally-minded, concerned, and willing to act. Whether or not they are getting it from an academic framework, these young students are engaged in future-focused learning.
For the same reasons, most of them are familiar with and inspired by their history-making contemporaries like Greta Thunberg and Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai. Through their actions, these young women have taught the world how to use tools at our collective disposal to solve globally significant challenges. In Greta’s case, the problem at the center of her effort is climate change. For Malala, it’s education for all. Both are with measurable outcomes.
When we look at the behavior of these young leaders, what we see is proof of care for the future backed by a capacity to think and act on it. These young leaders stepped out generational bias and beliefs. Like kindergarteners in a team-building activity, they are not fixated on what worked in the past or traditional best-case scenarios. They are acting on a vision for the future that is better than what they know now. Read more.
The history-making positive impact we need from our young people is attainable. We already see it happening. It’s our responsibility to have these conversations, think in new ways about education, and support the organizations that are working to create change.
As CEO of Toffler Associates, Maria taps into deep experience with strategy development and execution, customer experience, business performance management, acquisition integration, and organizational transformation. She is an energetic and insightful executive who brings dedication and know-how to help organizations define business strategy, lead high performing teams, grow new markets, and create measurable results.
Toffler Associates is a future-focused strategic advisory firm. Our Future Proof® business consulting approach helps global leaders understand how future shifts impact current decisions so they can take advantage of opportunity, manage risk, and create future value.
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