Recently I attended an Australasian Future Schools conference where there were many interesting themes discussed by a number of Australian and New Zealand experts.
One key theme which was addressed by several speakers was the need for education to be responsive to the needs of students in the face of a rapidly changing world of work. Some of the research base for many of the speakers sits in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)’s paper, “The future of education and skills 2030”.
In one very inspirational address, 34-year-old electrical engineer, Dr Jordan Nguyen, discussed that while science and technology has the potential to dramatically change the social, economic and environmental landscape, it is important that students learn to use these kinds of technologies in ways that improve lives. Jordan’s invention is a wheelchair which uses artificial intelligence to enable a disabled person to control the movement of and “drive” the wheelchair through the electric activity of the disabled person’s eyes.
A recurring message from many speakers focused on the importance of soft skills. These include, but are not limited to, creativity and adaptability, problem-solving and critical thinking, connection and collaboration, and also very importantly, empathy. While none of these skills is more important than others, speakers talked often about the power of collaboration in helping to drive innovation, and the idea of the importance of developing interdisciplinary knowledge, rather than focusing on single subject knowledge. Other speakers, in their own way, picked up on Jordan Nguyen’s message about “the intersection of humanity and technology”. For example, New Zealand’s Claire Amos, Principal of Auckland’s Albany Senior High School, focused on the importance of students developing their empathy and problem-solving ability through impact projects which connect with industry partners, and service learning which involves community connection.
The cartoon below, shared by New Zealand educationalist, Chris Clay, summed up for me the need for education to move beyond the learning of content to a focus on developing students' abilities to think critically and to be adaptive in creating solutions to address the complexities and challenges of the world we live in.