Education for an unknown future
BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz (The Philippine Star) - September 13, 2020 - 12:00am

Humankind is facing unprecedented issues and challenges today. We are obsessed by how the pandemic has changed the world and the lives we are leading. We are rightly worried about the future, especially the life our children will live in their adult years. We are conscious that we must prepare ourselves and our children to live in a world that will be so radically different.

We have become so obsessed with COVID-19 that we seem to forget that life in 2030 or 2050 will be influenced by changes more radical than the pandemic. To my mind, the most important aspect that has to be addressed is the area of education.

How should parents and schools prepare the children of today to survive and flourish in the world of 2050? I find it both amusing and tragic that education is supposed to prepare schoolchildren for a world where artificial intelligence and technology will play dominant; but our biggest problem today seems to be where to find enough tablets and iPads for schoolchildren. We are confronted by a world where robotics and data science will become part of our daily lives and yet almost all the schools in the Philippines are still living in the past as far as technology and education are concerned. Yuval Noah Harris, in his book 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, has a chapter on education where he wrote:

“The Industrial Revolution has bequeathed to us the production line theory of education. In the middle of town there is a large concrete building divided into many identical rooms, each room equipped with rows of desks and chairs. At the sound of the bell, you go to one of these rooms together with 30 other kids who were all born the same year as you. Every hour a different grown-up walks in and starts talking. The grown-ups are all paid to do so... One of them tells you about the shape of the earth, another tells you about the human past and a third tells you about the human body. It is easy to laugh at this model and almost everybody agrees that no matter its past achievement, it is now bankrupt. But so far we have not created a viable alternative. Certainly not a scalable alternative that can be implemented in rural Mexico rather than just in wealthy California suburbs.”

The concept of the classroom was started  in the 17th century by St. John Baptist de la Salle. At that time, education was only for the rich and the dominant style of teaching was through private tutors. St. La Salle founded a religious order that would focus on providing education for the poor. Tutors would be too expensive for mass education so he invented the classroom. At that time this was a revolutionary idea – both the classroom and mass education. Today these have become accepted norms. However, even progressive ideas that become the norm need to be re-examined from time to time.

So what will education be like that will serve to prepare the future of today’s children for the world just a generation away? Most people will say it should be technology based. Many writers including Harari have warned about this reliance on technology. Technology has transformed agriculture, allowing the exponential growth of all types of growth without enlarging land area. While technology has enriched a tiny elite, it has brought poverty to a lot of people. Small farmers have lost their farms. Today, Japan’s farmers comprise only around 2 percent of its population, while American farmers are only around 7 percent of total population. But the total wealth of the agricultural sector in those countries has remained very high.

Today, our individual lives have normally been divided into two complementary parts; a period of learning followed by a period of working. In the first, a person is expected to have accumulated information-developed skills, constructed a world view and built a stable identify. In the second part, you use your accumulated skills to navigate through your life, earn a living and contribute to society. Several futurologists, including Harari, say this model will soon become obsolete. Life expectancy will increase and a person will need to constantly learn and reinvent himself or herself. How many people will be prepared to start learning all over again at the age of 50?  More important, will we have a social structure that will allow us to start learning all over again at the age of 50?

Aside from information, schools today are focused on providing students with a set of specific skills such as solving equations, writing computer code, identifying chemicals or learning a foreign language. Yet we do not really know what skills we need to learn to succeed in the next 30 years or so. For example, there is already a new Google Translate app which will enable a person to conduct a conversation in Mandarin, Japanese and other languages. So what should we be teaching? Harari has this advice:

“Many pedagogical experts argue that schools should switch to teaching ‘the four C’s’ – critical thinking, communication, collaboration, creativity. More broadly, they believe schools should downplay technical skills and emphasize general purpose life skills.

“In the world of 2050, people must learn to adapt to new ideas and new products and above all to reinvent themselves again and again.

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An Invitation for Young Writers, ages 8-15:

Young Writers’ Hangouts on Sept. 26, 2-3 p.m: Poetry Writing with guest poet Mookie Katigbak Lacuesta.

Zoom, write and celebrate with us as we mark our 7th birthday in September. Contact writethingsph@gmail.com. 0945.2273216

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Email: elfrencruz@gmail.com

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