Are schools preparing young people for the future?

Our news & views

December 06, 2016

"Ultimately, young people today must be agile learners, able to adapt and learn new things quickly in a new fast-changing environment."

We’ve heard it as a hot topic at family dinner tables, and from employers complaining about the lack of needed skills in job applicants. Sir Ken Robinson raised it in his famous TED Talk. You may have reflected on it yourself: What are schools doing to prepare young people for a complex future full of environmental, social, and economic challenges?

Skills for a changing world

The Brookings Institution has been grappling with this question in their project, Skills for a Changing World.  Their recent report, Advancing Quality Learning for a Vibrant Society, describes the large breadth of skills that students need to be able to operate in the world, both now and in the future. These skills include less traditionally ‘academic’ skills such as teamwork, critical thinking, communication, persistence, and creativity. The authors emphasize breadth – ‘breadth of skills, breadth across ages, and breadth of learning opportunities, both inside and out of school.’

Throughout history, societies have educated children to prepare them for success. As the skills needed to function and thrive in society evolve, education needs to evolve too. According to the Brookings report, “…the Digital Revolution is transforming people’s relationship to cognitive or mental work in the much the same way the Industrial Revolution transformed people’s relationship with physical work.” Today’s students need to learn not only how to read, write and do math, but also how evaluate information, self-regulate, and work as part of a team.

Social-emotional skills key to effective education

The Brookings Institution isn’t the only organization interested in approaching education from a wide-angled view – all of the OECD member countries have included social and emotional skills in their national educational objectives or curriculum frameworks. Nor is this idea new – it was over 100 years ago that John Dewey wrote about the false dichotomy between ‘subject matter’ and ‘personality and character education,’ arguing that education should encompass both.

Education happens inside and outside the classroom

While there is general consensus about the importance of developing a broad range of skills, the question is how these skills are going to be taught to students. The report suggests that the student-teacher relationship in the classroom can no longer be a privileged space of isolated learning. Hallways, schoolyards, community centres, after-school clubs, and the mall down the street should all be considered learning spaces. Similarly, parents, community members, peers, and the whole array of school staff should be included in the roster of ‘educators’, alongside classroom teachers.

Measuring What Matters defines broader goals / competencies

People for Education’s Measuring What Matters project is a part of the Brookings initiative. We are exploring how to bring needed resources and attention to the learning that is most important for students’ future. We are consulting with educators, thought leaders, policymakers, and stakeholder groups to find the answer. We are working in schools and talking through practical issues of implementation with teachers and principals. In Ontario, exciting things are starting to happen.

Visit our website to learn more about Measuring What Matters.