Instead of content, we must teach skills in our schools to become a brilliant country in the 21st Century. But, what are those skills we must teach?
Despite the well-meaning educational policies and well-intentioned people thinking about them, traditional schooling in India has been evolving around one theme - teaching children content, more content, and better content. From learning apps to the strong critics of our school system, we eventually tie our best solutions to improve learning to making content available in various sizes and shapes and testing to see if children understand that content.
We want all our children to be successful. However, would making content available in the best possible form and then testing them for understanding make them successful in the 21st Century and beyond? We looked at the work of Kathy Hirsh-Pasek and Roberta Michnick Golinkoff to learn what we need to teach our children to be successful and become brilliant. In 2016, Kathy and Roberta published, Becoming Brilliant, based on their applied research on learning, teaching, and parenting. Becoming Brilliant, like their other thirteen books, make one thing abundantly clear: Our children will forge careers that look nothing like those that were available to us. Teaching them more content will not help them to succeed in these jobs. Countries that understand this and take action on this will become brilliant in the Centuries to come.
There are many countries who are doing a good job at teaching their children for the 21st Century and beyond.
If you explore Becoming Brilliant, we are sure you will notice that many countries have been actively redefining what to teach their children. Many of them initiated this process as early as the 1970s, while India has been busy revolving around content and testing, allowing the learning industry to ignore the science of learning. Kathy and Roberta give us the example of Finland, Singapore, and Canada. When over 14.4 billion Internet of Things devices that can seamlessly talk to each other take over those repetitive, risky, and monotonous tasks like driving, delivery, data entry, marketing, mining, or bookkeeping from the 7.98 billion people in the world, we are left with careers that demand creativity and collaboration.
Daniel Pink talks about this in his book A Whole New Mind, as follows:
The last few decades have belonged to a certain kind of person with a certain kind of mind—computer programmers who could crank code, lawyers who could craft contracts, MBAs who could crunch numbers. But the keys to the kingdom are changing hands. The future belongs to a very different kind of person with a very different kind of mind—creators and empathizers, pattern recognizers and meaning makers [emphasis added]. These people—artists, inventors, designers, storytellers, caregivers, consolers, big picture thinkers—will now reap society’s richest rewards and share its greatest joys.
This brings us back to the question, what should we teach our children so that they succeed in the 21st Century. Kathy and Roberta explored what some of the brilliant countries are doing about this, combined it with the insights they gained from applied education research on schooling and parenting to give us a list of six sets of skills we must work towards teaching in every school. What are those 6 skill sets?
Skill Set One
In-person or online collaboration is essential for learning and accomplishing tasks. Collaboration is the ultimate skill that all other skills build on. Human beings had to collaborate to learn and perform across centuries. Ancient Greeks learned through public dialogues, where masters like Socrates engaged in questioning and answering with his students. Ancient Jews used a technique named Havruta or Chavrusa to learn, which literally meant debate-as-learning. However, increasingly we are pushing our children to learn online from the likes of Khan Academy on their own. Research suggests that individualised learning is only the beginning of learning. To learn to think critically and creatively about what we are learning, we must talk about it with peers and experts. We must begin this process of teaching collaboration in our classrooms and homes by encouraging turn-taking and sharing. We must gradually increase the complexity of collaboration from learning individually and then taking turns to creating together. We must focus on helping our teachers and parents learn to scaffold collaboration.
Skill Set Two
During the Industrial Revolution, your success relied on your ability to make things. In the Age of the Internet of Things, your ability to connect determines the quality of your success. Communication is at the core of connection-making. Kathy and Roberta say, "The cruellest way to punish human beings is to put them into isolation—for children, we call this a time-out." While teaching children to communicate, apart from teaching them to speak and write, we must focus on helping them to learn to express their emotions, teach them to show and tell, engage in dialogue and tell a joint story. Research suggests that open-ended questions in the classroom can make a huge difference in the ability of children to communicate.
Skill Set Three
It is not that mastery of Content is a fruitless skill and tests are evil. Kathy and Roberta say, "To be clear, we’re not against testing. As many have said before us, if the tests assess real learning, then testing is great—perhaps even a learning experience. To find out whether Ms. Chaz’s class actually learned that Ponce de Leon’s search for the Fountain of Youth was apocryphal, some type of assessment must occur. But when content is the sole focus of education, all the other Cs fall by the wayside." We must help children with content mastery as they need knowledge for critical thinking and creative problem-solving. However, we must consider content mastery with learning agility or adaptability. We must teach our children the skills they need to process, question and unlearn content than teaching them content itself. Learning has to be about making connections between seemingly disconnected content and developing a deep understanding of various concepts.
Skill Set Four
Critical thinking is crucial to sustaining democracy. Kathy and Roberta say, " Without critical thinking, we would just blindly accept whatever we heard without questioning. Making informed choices demands that we question—not just repeat—what we have learned." Critical thinking is also essential in an age of information overload, in a world plagued by a post-truth data blast of intentional dissemination of misinformation, active social propaganda, and shortsighted political engineering. We must teach our children to ask questions and navigate the big data surrounding us. We must teach children to analyse, synthesise and evaluate information. We must educate our children that all the information they find online is equal, vetted, or evaluated. Eventually, it must lead them to master the intricacies of doubt. Kathy and Roberta say, "Playing games, telling funny stories, reading books, asking why—these are all ways to spur your child’s critical thinking skills. Games fuel critical thinking because they make children aware of rules and when they are violated."
Skill Set Five
Indian children are unprepared for the growing demand for creative thinking in the workplace. Our children are intelligent and smart. But does that make them creative innovators? Kathy and Roberta say, "Is creativity different from intelligence or just being smart? Although being smart never hurts, creativity is not the same as intelligence: We all know people who are geniuses but who panic when a road is closed or can’t think how to use the leftovers to make a new dish. We need to be strong critical thinkers or we will not be intelligent thinkers, but even that will not be enough if we cannot create new solutions from old parts—if we fail to become master tinkerers." We must understand that creativity is not meant for special people and it is not about engaging in a set of special activities. Creativity is not only about a single individual using imagination to create something, it is also about a group of people collaborating to innovate. We can teach children to experiment with, combine, express and envision ideas, working with their peers. Kathy and Roberta say, "Could we all take 15 minutes out of each day and let our kids invent? What might we do with that old broken vacuum cleaner or the box that housed the new dishwasher? Might they build a taxi with paper plates as headlights? Could they tell a new story that came from a fort built from sofa cushions? Do our children get the opportunity to string together toilet paper rolls, to use finger paint, or just to scribble drafts of family portraits that are proudly displayed on the refrigerator door? Most of us don’t build creativity into our lives, and then we wonder why our children write traditional five-paragraph essays or do art projects that amount to putting pre-cut apples on pre-cut trees."
Skill Set SIx
Confidence involves a willingness to try and persistence. Kathy and Roberta say, "If we are to prepare our children to be explorers on the frontier of ideas, we must encourage them to experiment, think, ask questions, and yes, fail, so that they can learn from their failures and try again. Our failures give us a way to compare what works and what does not. Children can build a sense of their own power if we let them get that bad mark on a test and then improve on the next one, experience that failed attempt at creating a sculpture in art class, or fall occasionally in their play. How many skinned knees did we have growing up? Lots." We live in a world where social comparisons and social anxiety can kill your spirit. To help children navigate the world of social comparison and social anxiety, we must provide them the space to take calculated risks and discover their boundaries. Not all children are the same. Some of them seem to have been born with confidence and some of them need to develop it. Praising the effort instead of praising the child is one proven way to boost confidence in children. Kathy and Roberta say, "Children will avoid trying new things if they think they might fail, especially if they think you will be upset by their failure. We want to encourage them to try and to move on even if they fail. When your child does something wrong or fails in a task, scolding will not be half as effective for building confidence as asking what happened in a truly neutral tone. Why did the babysitter trip on your truck? What happened on your spelling test? Think about the effect these questions have on children’s responses."
What can happen next?
a. If you are a school leader, then...