When I was a kid, my parents valued education and told my sisters and me that getting a good education was the key to having opportunities in life. My mother was a school teacher, so she could help us with homework throughout most of our school years, and my father, well, he was sorry he never got the chance to get more education, so he just gave us the drive.
But when I grew up and had children of my own, I realized that my path had been laid out for me and that I had pursued education without ever stopping to ask my self why. I may have chosen my fields of study, but the thought of traveling, taking a “gap year” to work or even starting a business had never crossed my mind.
If we look at the history of knowledge, we can see that it was once reserved to special people, such as nobles, religious leaders and professional scholars. Later on, getting a “good education” required no entitlement, only money, and over time, education became more and more accessible to everyday people.
Still, the feeling that education gives you and edge and lifts your social standing remained and was transferred from one generation to the next. Knowledge was power, or so everybody thought.
But if you look around you today, you will see knowledge everywhere. Your kids can answer most of the questions you throw at them by searching for the answers on the Internet and finding them much faster than they would by going to class. More importantly, the answers they find today may be very different to those they will find next year or even next month. Knowledge has become very temporary and memorizing facts and figures has become both impossible and pointless.
Today, there are requirements for professional skills that did not exist 20 years ago. On the other hand, there are skills nobody will ever need again – just think of the Year 2000 information technology revolution and of the move from chemotherapy to gene therapy in medicine.
This makes much of what is being taught at schools today irrelevant. Consider even the most advanced approach of using laptops at school in the age of tablet computing and the coming era of computers that can execute verbal commands and understand the meaning of images. Students who learned keyboard shortcuts and the best way to manipulate objects with a mouse will have no use for these skills in a few short years, never mind how to plot X vs. Y.
Education systems can only teach what they know. The problem is that they keep focusing on teaching knowledge, testing students’ knowledge and giving children everywhere the feeling that knowledge is power when it is not.
Our children – and the future adults – will be healthier than us, will live longer than us and will have instant and unlimited access to information about everything. What they will need most is to be able to make sense of massive amounts of information, to deal with other human beings in a productive way and to be happy.
Being always connected to a worldwide network that pumps enormous amounts of information and pushes them to us in various ways is a massive challenge. Unless our children learn how to pick the golden nuggets from all that dirt, their life will be very unproductive and their world will slow to a standstill.
Therefore, schools must teach them how to set priorities and how to decide quickly what to focus on and what to ignore.
Being always able to use computers to entertain themselves, answer any questions they have and communicate with others without getting up, our children are already compromising their imagination and the quality and depth of their human relationships.
10 years ago, when we moved into our current home, Tsoof played soccer on the street with a couple of boys. 6 years ago, while on school holidays, he walked over to one of them and asked him if he wanted to play. The boy said, “Nah, I’m on the computer”.
Therefore, schools must teach students about kindness, consideration, acceptance, trust, integrity and other values that will help them get along with other people. They must provide children the environment in which to practice collaboration, leadership and good citizenship. And they must encourage them to take up social activities, like dancing, team sports, playing in a band, singing in a choir and so on.
Living in a world where stress is already the leading cause of health problems, addictions, relationships issues, violence and suicide, our children will have to be very good at managing their emotions. When they become parents, they will also have to be good at helping their children cope with stress, while they deal with the added pressure of having kids.
Therefore, schools must teach students emotional intelligence – how to recognize their feelings, how to manage their feelings, how to recognize others’ feelings and how to support other people emotionally. Schools should have programs that teach the kids how to set goals, how to achieve them and how to enjoy the fruits of their labor.
And you know why you should care?
Because until the school system is updated to cater for our children’s future needs, it is our job as parents to do it and we do not always have the skills or the resources.
In the meantime, the best thing we can do is discover our kids’ communication styles and love languages, teach them what they mean and help them make the most out of the education they get, while encouraging them to be independent, social and happy.