What do we teach for tomorrow’s world?

What do we teach for tomorrow’s world?

Still one of the most questions I get asked in the Q+A sessions after giving a talk, is a variation of “What should I be teaching my kids to help them get a job in the future?’”.

My answer is still based on some work I did a few years ago with the ICAEW on the future of education. Conversations there started with the question of better aligning teaching with the requirements of today’s economy, but ranged into what future employers might need. Our conclusions covered divorcing skills from knowledge, preparing for change, and emphasising creativity.

Knowledge is the context in which skills are acquired

In a world where almost any fact can be recalled in a few key strokes, knowledge is a commodity. What matters is the skills to find the knowledge you need, qualify, and apply it.

Of course it’s not quite that simple: our skills of search and qualification are naturally informed by a base level of knowledge. You cannot totally divorce the skills of discovery and validation from the knowledge that gives you a solid platform from which to work, a benchmark against which to test the facts that you discover.

But beyond a sufficiently solid base of knowledge, it’s hard to make the case that known facts offer anyone a clear differentiator in the job market. Instead, we should recognise that knowledge is increasingly the context in which skills are developed. The acquisition of more knowledge through the development of skills is a very welcome benefit. But it is the skills that hold the real value.

The Three Cs

Which skills should we be focusing on teaching? I come back to the same, short list every time: the Three Cs.

Curation: This is about the skills of discovery and qualification. Knowing what you don’t know, finding that information, and ensuring its veracity. It’s about learning to learn, critical to adaptation in a career that will likely see a lot of change.

Creation: Synthesising something new is the most valuable contribution to an economy, notable since our own is increasingly focused on service. Sadly, we seem less and less focused on teaching creativity, which can be developed in a huge range of contexts. Science is often a creative subject, but the arts are a fantastic way to develop our creative muscles (and a huge industry in their own right).

Communication: Our skills are worth little in the economy unless we can share what we have learned and created with our colleagues, customers and stakeholders. A broad spectrum of communications skills, writing and speaking, designing and presenting — even coding, an increasingly common form of communication — are vital for future careers.

Preparing for change

I focus on these three skills because they are timeless. There is no single career to which I can comfortably point people today. All will go through periods of disruption in the future. The only way to offer our children some measure of career stability is to help them prepare for such an environment, building skills that help them adapt.

The skills above are applicable across a wide range of roles. Build them and they can turn their hands to almost anything.

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Tom Cheesewright