The Most Important Skills Kids Will Need for the Future
If we were to survey a large group of educators on what the primary purpose of education is, I guarantee that there would be no general consensus. The answers would be all over the place, like: creating thoughtful individuals, instructing on how to learn, teaching critical thinking skills, creating lifelong learners, teaching socialization skills, making responsible citizens, etc., etc. The list could go on forever.
After doing a little research on this subject, it appears that our society has been trying to reach a general consensus on this matter for a long time. Eleanor Roosevelt wrote in an article entitled Good Citizenship: The Purpose of Education from 1930: "What is the purpose of education? This question agitates scholars, teachers, statesmen, every group, in fact, of thoughtful men and women."
It is interesting to note that when Horace Mann and his fellow educational reformers first envisioned what our public education systems would like like, they saw it as a means to shape the character of the American people. One of their objectives was to impart certain common beliefs to the masses. It seems to have come almost full circle now that all of these years later character education programs and initiatives are now popular in school systems across the nation.
Some contend that the purpose of education is primarily for the sake of teaching children to think though building their brains through rigorous academics. While this may seem like an outdated maudlin approach, as a school principal, I still get the occasional email asking me why we "waste time" on things like recess, physical education, social and emotional learning, etc. Even when I show them the research that shows the benefits of things like unstructured play time and SEL (social and emotional) lessons, they typically hold firm in their myopic desire for more higher level math contests and additional science fairs.
Don't get me wrong. Academics are important. VERY important. However, our schools need to teach more than just academic content for our children to be able to thrive in this ever-changing, fast-paced world they live in. With this in mind, the middle school where I work developed and implemented three unique programs to help foster student maturation in the important "soft skills" areas: Mindful Moments (for self-awareness and emotional regulation), Daily Focus (for SEL skills), and The House System (for character education). By no means am I suggesting that we have all the answers. Rather, this serves as an example of how some schools are realizing that a true education for children needs to be much more than just the proverbial "3 R's" of reading, writing, and arithmetic.
I believe that the main objective for education should be to prepare students for the future. The cornoavirus pandemic shutdown has taught us just how disposal, "non-essential," or short term the lifespan of many jobs and/or careers can be. Furthermore, many jobs are shifting in the ways in which they are being carried out. Case in point, an educator friend of mine posted a meme on his Instagram account that stated: "Covid 19 has taught us that half our jobs can be done from home, and the other half deserve more than they're being paid."
There is no doubt that technology continues to change the ways in which we do things, almost on a daily basis. This is constantly changing the occupational landscapes in our world. Not only can computers store more information than humans, but they tend to be more efficient in many regards. We are entering an era where artificial intelligence is not only replacing lower wage unskilled workers' jobs, but it is starting to encroach on the territory of higher skilled positions as well. Not to sound like an alarmist, but with the rapid advances in technological innovation, it is just a matter of time before these types of computers and robots will be able to perform almost any job.
Thought leaders like Yuval Noah Harari tell us that the art of reinvention will be one of the most critical skills of this century. He claims to keep up with the warp-speed world of 2050, our children must have the mental flexibility to be able to reinvent themselves again and again during their life spans. In our tech-driven world, we are all flooded with a tremendous amounts of information. We have always been taught in school that we should strive to absorb as much information as possible. An approach for the future may be learning what information is worth holding onto in our limited "operation systems" (minds), because we don't have the capacity to retain it all.
Harari contends that that many pedagogical experts believe that schools should switch to teaching the "Four C's"- critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity, thus downplaying technical skills and emphasizing general-purpose like skills. They believe that the acquisition of these skills will enable students to better deal with change, learn new things, and preserve mental balance in unfamiliar situations.
Until recently, most individuals have been able to to establish a level of comfort and/or security by forming an identity based on the psychological security we have derived from our stable careers. According to Harari, this is rapidly changing due to technology changing the workforce, and because our lifespans are continuing to increase. With the rise in life expectancy, the retirement age in the future will continue to go up. Therefore, workers in the future will incur a great deal of mental stress by having to reinvent themselves in order to not become irrelevant. As we all know, change is hard. This is why Harari believes the two most important skills we should start teaching our children to prepare them for the stresses of the future are emotional intelligence and mental resistance.
The best ways for us to teach our children EQ (emotional intelligence) and mental resistance skills is through mindfulness and SEL practices/programs. Ideally, your child's school has such programs, as more are being started in school systems throughout the country at a frequent pace. If your child's school does not have such programs, I implore you to advocate for them. You may be able to find auxiliary programs outside of the school in your community through local organizations, community centers, and houses of worship. Abundant quality resources, such as books, apps, and computer programs are widely available if you want to work with your children on these skills. Such new resources for children of every age are coming out virtually every day. For instance, Sesame Street and the popular mediation app, Headspace, recently announced that they would be joining forces to create content to teach kids about mindfulness.
In short, technology has changed our world so rapidly that companies and organizations aren't hiring workers for their current skills. Instead, they are looking for employees who have the mental flexibility to learn "future skills" as soon as they pop up. Schools and parents who realize this and implement programs and practices that emphasize these important soft skills into their children's lessons will be doing their kids a great service.
Greg Graber, the author of Slow Your Roll- Mindfulness for Fast Times, teaches mindfulness to schools, top sports teams, and various organizations around the world. Graber, the current Head of Middle School at Lausanne Collegiate School, will begin his tenure as the school's Director of SEL & Mindfulness in June. His website is www.greggraber.com