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The end of education as we know it

About Philosophically

I think, therefore I am.

Is our current educational system outdated?

Professor Ken Robinson, author of books such as “Creative Schools – The Grassroots Revolution That’s Transforming Education” often suggests that todays educational system was designed to address the needs of the industrial revolution, and are therefore outdated.

learning facts is of limited value (Image: Shutterstock).

learning facts is of limited value (Image: Shutterstock)

Education as we know it, or more specifically, the western primary, secondary and tertiary school, systems were specifically designed to cater to the need for workers, more often than not factory workers, who had basic skills in the ‘three Rs’ and a compliant accepting attitude.

Since the start of the industrial revolution in the 1700s through until this day, the focus in the education system has been on learning critical facts and developing the skills needed to find a job and be productive in that job. There has generally, and especially in primary and secondary school, been no encouragement of creativity or deep thinking.

Little time or resources have been devoted in primary and secondary school, and limited time has been devoted in the tertiary environment to encouraging or developing creativity, or the development of lateral, objective and critical thinking skills. The only real exceptions have been in post graduate courses, creative arts, mathematics and philosophy in universities and some colleges.

The industrial revolution is now over of course, and the digital revolution is well underway, with the resulting change accelerating and the full impacts yet to be fully understood. That said, the changes to date and the forecasted changes from this revolution have seen the well informed, at least, recognising that changes are needed in the way we educate and prepare students for the future.

Thriving in the digital age will require a whole new skill set. It will require greater creative capabilities, with success becoming increasingly dependent on the capacity of an individual to think laterally, objectively and critically. Without these skills and an orientation towards being open to creativity and informed individuals, the community as a whole will suffer.

It is often said, that people entering first year university with a view to graduating in 4 to five years, will be studying for a job that will not exist by the time their degree is finished or a job that does not currently exist. Most of the jobs we have associated with the last 50 years will not exist, or will change radically in the next 5 years. The skills people need to survive and prosper will change as fast, if not faster. Most of the knowledge they leave university with will be irrelevant two years after they graduate.

Teaching some facts at school will remain important but less so. Far more important will be the capacity to adapt, learn new jobs, develop new skills and change with the changing nature of work and the tasks being performed at work. There is a school of thought suggesting intelligence is nothing more or less than a measure of the capacity to adapt. I think this is far too simplistic, but there is a grain of truth here.

If people are going to be able to learn new jobs and skills quickly, adapt and reinvent themselves in weeks and embrace change at an increasing rate, then there will need to be a greater emphasis placed on ongoing education, or education for life. This idea is now well recognised and a practise that is encouraged.

Equally important however will be teaching people the thinking, creative and analytical skills they need to learn the things they need to learn to quickly, adapt and reinvent themselves. The education system will need to place a greater emphasis on the capacity of all individuals to think laterally, objectively and critically. These are skills central to productive adaption, reinvention and developing the skills needed to address jobs that have not even been thought of yet.

Lateral thinking is the capacity to think in a no- linear way, something I never even heard of during my education, despite it being the key to innovation. Objective thinking involves thinking based solely on the availability of data, completely ignoring the idea of subjectivity, something I did not study until university philosophy and mathematics. Critical thinking involves accepting nothing for which there is no evidence, something also not part of my education until university, despite being essential for scientific and related progress.

Thinking and being able to do so laterally, without a hint of emotion and with constant questioning is the key to learning. It will be central to the capacity of individuals to learn and adapt. They are central to moving society forward productively.

Despite this 80 - 90% of people I meet lack these skills at a level that will shield them from the impact of change, let alone help them prosper in a rapidly changing environment.

If our education system emphasises socialisation, rote learning and facts over creativity and thinking, it will be doing society no favours,  this is because as far as I can see, both the public and private education systems are failing us in this regard.

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