May 24, 2018

Why we need to rethink learning- Adetola Salau

Why we need to rethink learning- Adetola Salau
“Children are our most valuable resource.” Herbert Hoover, 31st President of the United States.
The work of the future will involve humans collaborating with other humans to design work for machines.
The current educational system we have was designed for the 20th century. It mostly based upon getting children to retain information and manipulate numbers. The assessment designed around it measures these abilities and rewards you when you have a propensity for those skills. You are given admission into good schools, promised a secure career and told that you would have a successful life.
Those skills count for nothing these days, why bother memorizing information when with a few clicks and keystrokes, vaults of information are at their disposal? We all have the equivalent of supercomputers in our hands; recalling information and carrying out numerical tasks are now automated.
Recently, I was discussing current trends in education with the Dean of the School of Engineering, Delaware University, in the United States and he stated that he doesn’t value the retention of information; that practically most that is taught in school can be handled with a quick Google search. He values critical thinking skills and problem-solving skills more as the world is changing at a fast pace.
It is plain that we need to rethink education. Our kids are guaranteed to deal with a much different world than we live in now. A study at Oxford stated that close to half of the jobs that exist today will be automated in the next 20 years. For our children to be future ready we need to fix our outdated education system with one that fosters STEM skills like teamwork, communication, and exploration.
Teamwork (aka collabo)
According to the convention, schoolwork is all about an individual’s accomplishment. A student studies at home alone gets accordingly ready for the assessment and undertakes it alone without help. Looking for external help is termed cheating and you get in a lot of trouble for it. The focus then was self-achievement.
Invariably, as we all know, everything always changes, especially in highly technical fields. In 1920, most scientific papers were authored by one person, this changed by the 50’s. People began to work together and co-authorship became the norm. It is not unusual these days to see at least four authors for each paper and there is far more interdisciplinary work done now. The interesting twist is that these collaborations are done across thousands of miles now.
Don’t get it twisted!  There is amazing work being done by these teams and it will only increase as more jobs become automated. Jobs in the future aren’t dependent on a specific expertise or crunching numbers, they have to do with people working together in teams designing work for machines.

Notice the clear shift, the valuable skill will be from cognitive skills to social skills, We desperately need to shift the focus of our schools to collaboration, play and interpersonal skills.
Better Communication Skills.
What we most need to improve are communication skills. To understand why, advanced technologies are being applied to fields as diverse as medicine, finance and even music. That takes more than just technical skill, but requires computer scientists to work effectively with experts in a wide variety of fields.
A lot of IT firms now evaluate programmers by both their technical skills and communication skills, initiative and teamwork. Clear and concise writing, critical thinking and the ability to always learn — to take in disparate facts, put them in context and express them clearly — these are the critical skills that will be the deal-breakers for future professionals.
Focus upon higher level math—learning patterns.
Arithmetic has always been the bane of most students at schools. Division, multiplication tables, word problems and hard formulas to memorize. Geometry? Trigonometry? Greek as far as most were concerned. We did everything from memory and in long hand. These days it does seem counter-intuitive that we don’t utilize calculators when teaching math when they are all around us, on phones, computers etc.
Mathematical skills are highly essential, however, the skills that are necessary for the future aren’t the ones being emphasized at school i.e. counting, multiplication to name just a few. What is critical is the ability to ascribe meaning from data.
It has been said that “Schools are still stuck on teaching 20th-century math for building things rather than 21st-century math for understanding things.” There ought be more focus on the mathematics of patterns (e.g. set theory, graph theory, etc.). This  is a shift to higher level math. The great mathematician G.H. Hardy put it, “A mathematician, is like a painter or a poet, is a maker of patterns. If his patterns are more permanent than theirs, it is because they are made with ideas.”
More emphasis upon Exploration than knowledge.
At the end of the school term children are expected to know, dates of historical events, mathematical formulas, the name of specific biological structures, etc. However knowledge is dynamic now, a lot that we know now will be obsolete by the time our children are working.
The notion that education prepares you for your career is out of sync, we need to prepare our kids for a world that we don’t understand ourselves clearly yet. It is clearly beyond our grasp to make judgements about the information that they will need to know.
What we should do instead of filling their minds with redundant knowledge is equip them with the ability to explore things for themselves, take in new information, make sense of it and communicate what they’ve learned to others.
As technology takes over more tasks that were distinctly human, these are the skills that will be most crucial.
As things go haywire all about us, it is essential we teach our children how to adapt.
That is what we need to prepare our kids to do.

Adetola Salau; Educator / Speaker / Author/ Social Entrepreneur / Innovator

She is an Advocate of STEM Education and is Passionate about Education reform. She is an innovative thinker and strives for our society & continent as a whole to reclaim it’s greatness.

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