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Learning in the dark – is our school curriculum fit for the future?

Learning in the dark – is our school curriculum fit for the future?

26 September 2017 Written by By Sarah Weir OBE Chief Executive (2017 - 2020)

With party conference season well underway, we at Design Council have been considering a topic that is key (we feel) to the future of Britain – education, skills, and the part design plays in the economic future of the our country.

It’s September and my social media is jam packed with photos of children heading back to school. For some, it is the very first time they will enter our education system. But what many of them don’t know is that the jobs they will eventually find and settle into later down the line are not the jobs that exist today. 65% of children entering primary school this month will work in jobs in the future we don’t even know about yet.

Maybe they will lead in roles linked to artificial intelligence and machine-learning and robotics. Or maybe nanotechnology, 3-D printing, or genetics and biotechnology. We don’t know for sure, but we do know that rapid technological change is changing the skill requirements for most jobs.

So how do we design a school curriculum that will deliver the leaders of tomorrow and equip our children with the skills and knowledge needed to succeed in the future?

It’s a question I can’t fully answer in one blog post and it’s a challenge that needs some collaboration and creativity because we need our educators to teach skills for jobs we don’t know exist yet, solving problems we’ve never seen before and won’t see for years.

If we are to believe futurists who suggest kids today will be in roles like ‘Digital Death Manager’, ‘Urban Shepherd’ and ‘Microbial Balancer’ the current curriculum might not suffice. But to be world leading, we need to make sure our children leave our education system with the skills and knowledge to succeed in two decades’ time.

Last month, PWC published their ‘workforce of the future’ report which presented ‘four worlds of work’ in 2030 which could kickstart our thinking about the many possible scenarios that could develop, and how to best prepare and design for the future. Whilst it is impossible to predict exactly the skills that will be needed even five years from now, we know that whatever we do today, we must be prepared to adapt and be flexible tomorrow.

In a bid to start a debate on future skills, I have been talking to some of our industry leaders and finding out what skills they look for now, and importantly what they think they will need in the future. At Google, design skills and disruptive thinking is mandatory. Collaboration is critical. No one works solo at Google. At IBM, they look for creators, makers and problem solvers. 40,000 staff are being trained in ‘design thinking’. Some of the key skills in high demand are leadership, collaboration, creativity and innovation.

Even the role of the teacher in future years is up for debate. Could robots replace teachers? Of course not. Or at least not yet. Technology is now fully woven into the curriculum and we are seeing greater use of robotics within the school four walls, but I believe the best classroom technology will continue to be the teacher who will build the human connections that are at the core of these skill areas. Can robots teach collaboration, creativity and disruptive thinking? I don’t think so.

Indeed, I’m not convinced we have a curriculum that helps teachers teach the skills of the future. And therein lies the problem. Will children be equipped with the skills to solve the problem of global warming in a curriculum that omits design, technology and arts? Currently not – so why are we still having a debate about whether art and design should or should not be core to young people’s learning?

Imagine a school class with children fully engaged and immersed in working together to solve real world issues. They are self driven, collaborative and coming up with ideas and throwing out the ones that don’t work. They think creatively and they apply it across their entire life. Surely it’s important for our young people to have the skills they need to design their future, drive the economy and solve the global challenges they face in the future?

For many who are starting out on their education journey this month the message should probably read ‘Welcome to a life of learning’. Because there is one thing I do know for certain – our learning will never end. We need to prepare our children and our workforce to adapt and continuously learn because whatever the world looks like in 2030 we need to be willing to acquire new skills and experiences throughout our lifetime. We must embrace it, to benefit from it and not be left behind.

This article originally appeared on the Huffpost UK website.

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