In the world of education, we’re preparing our students for an uncertain future. Some of the jobs of today won’t exist in 20 years. And new jobs are being created all the time, the likes of which we can hardly imagine.
Our educational system was primarily designed during the industrial revolution. We needed clerks and factory workers to keep the economy moving, along with relatively small numbers of professionals and entrepreneurs.
This was sufficient for a time but it’s clearly inadequate for the 21st century.
In response to this, the British Columbia Ministry of Education redesigned the curriculum.
But the question remains: How do we prepare our young people for an uncertain future?
We need to keep in mind that ‘uncertain’ doesn’t have to mean ‘frightening.’ Even in the most stable times in history, people have faced many uncertainties. Countries went to war, economies crashed and new inventions created demand for new products. We’ve always had to adapt.
Some people, however, have handled these changes better than others.
As I reflect on my education, I realize that many skills I learned in school I don’t use now. And there’s a great deal I had to learn beyond the classroom. To believe that our schools can teach our children everything they’ll need to know in life by the time they’re 18 is, and always has been, unrealistic.
Perhaps the greatest weakness of earlier public education systems was the emphasis on skill development rather than personal development. In my teacher training in the 1980s, the vast majority of our studies focused on what skills to teach and how to effectively teach them.
I recall asking my professors, “Is it more important to cover the curriculum or to teach the students?” There was good discussion but there was no definitive answer.
Today, the emphasis is clearly on the learner.
What we’ve come to realize is that our young people are the most valuable investment in our future and we need to invest wisely. The new B.C. curriculum, therefore, not only emphasizes skill development in reading, writing and arithmetic, it stresses the importance of personal and social development. It recognizes that in order to function well in a changing world, one needs a solid grasp of core competencies, including personal identity, social awareness and social responsibility.
Many agree that the most important thing our children need to know is their own value.
As I walked through my school the other day, I noticed sticky notes on everyone’s locker affirming this. The Me to We group had written such messages as “You’re special” and “You’re a gift” on small pieces of paper and put them up. What this communicates to every person is not only that she or he valuable, but so is everyone around them.
This is a message affirmed in a book of Indigenous wisdom commonly taught called Seven Sacred Teachings. It states, “You are not the same as your neighbour. You were created special. You are one of a kind. So is your neighbour. So are the trees and flowers. You need only look and see that it is so.”
Embrace your own goodness and discover what that means. Develop your gifts through education. Know that you are your own greatest asset and that the world needs what you have to offer. Prepare yourself as well to be a lifelong learner.
In addition, know that everyone else who inhabits this wonderful planet is also of infinite value. We all serve each other and everyone is learning.
In essence, the goal of education is to stimulate constant growth in knowledge and wisdom.
As our society moves forward living these ideals, we can each have the courage to say with Mahatma Gandhi: “My life is my message.”
Gerry Chidiac is an award-winning high school teacher specializing in languages, genocide studies and work with at-risk students.