In the last part of this series, we’ll discuss how the automation of tasks by technology and the disruption of typical business structure and models has an implication on what we’re doing in education right now.

Education is the hot topic these days.  Whether it’s questioning the economic value of higher education, or making assumptions about whether our schools are failing, everyone seems to have a strong opinion on education.  The bottom line in this debate is that education is all about developing children into productive citizens.

At one time, we used public schools to develop a well educated work force to work in an economy with a manufacturing focus.  We were good at it.  Then we changed our focus to try to ensure every kid, not just the privileged few, could go to college and be employed in service sector jobs.  Now, we’re faced with preparing kids for jobs that may not yet exist, an economy that constantly seems to be shifting, and schools that are forced to guess at what technologies to implement to best prepare kids for a world where their futures are less clear than before.  Will we need to resume manufacturing things here rather than abroad?  What types of workers will we need?  What will the workplace itself look like?  I think some people have a guess (I know I do) but no one can guarantee that they’re right.

In a world where the future is uncertain, teaching kids how to use Word and Excel may have limited value, as it applies to those specific programs themselves.  Likely, these programs will be radically different or totally replaced by the time our kids enter the workplace.  However, knowing how (and why) people use spreadsheets, power points, and the like, or how to communicate information clearly in writing- those are important skills.

What we need is to figure out what kids need to learn, and why.  Often, the truth is that they need to learn how to learn and how to study, analyze information, and report the results to others in different ways to make their ideas understood.  Many times this is learning about history and science, literature, and math, but having the knowledge come together in a project where kids can really apply what they’re learning and make it a real, tangible experience.  We have to change things so kids feel the time they are spending in school is valuable, and that the things they learn from the teacher and other students in the classroom is more eye-opening than just reading a book about the subject or seeing a short you-tube video.    The more we can get teachers to even work together and create cross disciplinary projects, the more kids will see how the different subjects in school overlap and relate to each other.  This is the very essence of learning and making meaning, and it’s what we need to do more of in schools at all levels.

By changing the way we assess kids and their “performance” in school towards project based learning, the more kids will have tangible experiences in figuring things out on their own or in groups.  This is what we have to do when we get older, whether you have an office job, fix cars, or simply have to negotiate endless relationships with family members and service people.  We need to let kids find creative solutions to problems and prompts, because problem solving is at the heart of what we need to do every day, along with communicating our insights cogently to others.

There really aren’t many guaranteed jobs for life like there often were for my parent’s generation.  People my age are finding the job market less secure and often pigeon holing, effectively reducing their prospects at finding replacement work rather than broadening their prospects through their experience.  I don’t see this changing any time soon.  And this is why, as much as possible, we’re trying to give our kids experience, either by helping us at home, or through summer camp, or however else we can, in doing real, meaningful stuff.  It means coaching them through different projects, letting them experiment, fail and then retry, changing what they did and moving towards success.  Sometimes it’s about figuring out when to throw in the towel, and when to start from the beginning, no matter how tedious.

Each of these experiences builds in resilience and a willingness to try, even if you aren’t guaranteed results, but looking at the process as an opprtunity to learn something new.

And that’s the real life skill that we need kids to have in order to bounce back and adapt to any situation the future brings.