With the rise of digitalization and technology, a new set of skills is needed for future work. These competences are not related to any specific domain of work. Instead, they are valued as vital for future professions in general. When these new skills are discussed in the context of educating next generations, most reports focus on a change in high school and university systems. However, it might be better to start at an earlier age given the type of skills that are at stake.

Our oberservations

  • The Worldwide Educating for the Future Index assesses the effectiveness of education systems in preparing students for the demands of work and life in a rapidly changing landscape. Problem-solving and critical-thinking skills are considered crucial.
  • Dublin City University (DCU) launched a new five-year strategic plan Talent, Discovery and Transformation. According to its president, in 2020, major corporations will be looking for graduates that master analytical thinking, empathy, emotional intelligence, and the ability to collaborate.
  • Tony Wagner, co-director of Harvard’s Change Leadership Group, argues that today’s children are facing a “global achievement gap”: the gap between what schools are teaching and the skills young people need in general to be ready for their future.
  • Dr. Muñiz claims that automation of fairly sophisticated routine jobs is driving the polarization of the labor market. What remains are either hard-to-automate tasks that require little or no skill, or hard-to-automate tasks that require very high skills.

Connecting the dots

The demands of the job market are changing. Main reasons are the shift from an industrial economy to a knowledge economy, the interconnected nature of the business world, the increasing need to interpret data, the automation of many routine jobs, and today’s fast-changing world in which the education of adolescents will not be sufficient for the 40-50 years of work that follow. An increased demand for creative, analytical, collaboration and communication skills manifested. As a result, these skills are becoming a pressing topic in the discussions about the education of future generations, and school systems are being reevaluated all over the world. The focus is mainly on changing the school curricula of students between the age of 15 and 24. Starting at that age, however, one can wonder if the attempt to develop these kind of skills will succeed.
Creative and imaginative thinking, for example, are automatically present in the minds of children. Exemplary are the endless questions from the average 4 year old about matters most adults consider as obvious. A child’s ability to think “out of the box” (creative and imaginative thinking) is more natural because there is not yet “a box to think in”. By the time a child is 10, however, he or she is much more likely to be concerned with getting the right answers for school than with asking good questions or having imaginative thoughts. This has everything to do with the school systems young children participate in: repeating what has been taught is rewarded most, and this diminishes creative and imaginative thinking.
Analytical thinking, to give another example, involves the use of propositional logic and preferable predicate logic, which are usually only taught in academic philosophy classes. These forms of logic are crucial to prevent fallacies in the analysis of a problem, argumentation, information, etc. When it comes to the development of these types of logic, they have a lot in common with mathematics and grammar, the later they are rehearsed, the less a student will be able to grasp and use them effectively. Instead of starting with analytical thinking in high school or university, a basic form of logic has to be implemented in the curricula of young children if analytical thinking is to be cultivated. The same reasoning could be brought forward for collaboration and communication skills; cultivating them needs to start in primary school.
If this happens, your child might argue in the future that, although you told him “when he eats his supper, he will get dessert and since he didn’t eat his supper, he doesn’t get dessert,” he can still have dessert because your reasoning contains a logical fallacy.

Implications

  • When changes in school curricula are indeed needed at an earlier stadium, primary schools need to reevaluate their school systems. They should include teachings that pay more attention rewarding a child’s curiosity, getting them to think for themselves instead of doing what they think is expected of them, and teaching children how to be a community of inquiry instead of turning to a teacher to gain knowledge.
  • Cultivating these new skills at a young age might also be helpful in developing a healthy attitude towards the attention economy. To think for yourself (creative thinking) and being able to analyze (analytical thinking) the information, apps, pop-ups or push messages that persuade us to think and do things we originally did not intended certainly seems to address the troubling effects that the attention economy appears to have on our cognitive abilities.