The Institute for the Future (IFTF) estimates that 85 percent of the jobs that will exist in 2030 don’t exist yet.
In light of this, not only does the question “what do you want to be when you grow up?” appear extra twee and unuseful but a new question arises:
What must we teach children now to best prepare them for the 21st century working, economic and digital worlds beyond our current experience and understanding?
Less Memorizing, More Contemplating
There are multiple schools of thought about which skills should be considered vital for the 21st Century. Common agreement is a departure from rote fact learning (we have Google) towards human-centered, meta-cognitive skills. The idea here being that we can’t compete with the pattern recognition and data-processing power of exponential computing, so let’s rather incorporate predictions that say robotics and AI will displace 50% of today’s jobs in 20 years’ time and work on innate human strengths.
The work a computer can’t do is that of critical thinking, curiosity, and imagination. Choosing to teach our children the skills required to navigate what’s coming is less about learning coding and more about amplifying the power of their unique thoughts and minds. Computers can think. Humans can think about their thinking. Studies show it’s this kind of meta-contemplation that allows for strategic analysis, creative problem-solving, and invention.
The Why of Critical Thinking
Critical thinking is the art of actively engaging information and stimulus of any kind to deeply assess it before taking control by deciding for yourself what it means or what should happen next. It’s the corollary to blinding absorbing a school curriculum or online information.
Critical thinking is a navigational device that will remain relevant and always work because no matter what happens out there, your child will have the learned ability to mindfully assess, process, solve, and take action. In other words, your child will know how to respond in order to create their best outcome and stay in charge of their life through discerned choice-making.
The How of Critical Thinking
Three ways to teach a child to think critically:
1. Lean into their ‘whys’: The next time a child asks you ‘why’ they have to do something/go somewhere replace “because I said so” with engaging their curiosity. Ask them why they think they need to go to bed at a certain time or go to school and encourage, support, and guide their answers and reasoning.
2. Question online reality: Our digital information ecology is unregulated and polluted. Show them how to check their sources and to consider relevant context before they accept a headline or social post as fact.
3. Play the ‘what-if’ game?: Come up with fun potential life scenarios and encourage their line of thinking with ‘tell me more’ and ‘what about XYZ?’. For example: What if you had to choose between only having summer clothes or winter clothes?
Clearly, the way forward is not to fill young minds with other people’s thoughts but rather to keep them open enough to create their own.