Education. A topic that remains hotly debated all over the world. Especially now, as we struggle to find our footing as our futures hurtle towards us, faster and more profoundly different than ever before.
What changes do existing schools and colleges need to make to better prepare students for the trends we already see? Together with those “weak signals” that suggest other, possible futures? In “trying to adapt education for what the American economy is evolving into,” is mandating “coding classes” part of the answer? Are we doing enough to take into account contrarian perspectives like this one? Who gets to decide what the purpose of education should be, in any case?
These are just some of the questions everyone–from policy makers to parents, academics to students themselves–need to think about.
Intrigued as to what the global futurist and foresight communities might have in mind, I posed them the following question:
If there was one thing I could change in education to better prepare students for the future of work, it would be…
The twenty women that responded to my call are either professional futurists or apply foresight in their roles as leaders in global firms and consultancies, think tanks and foundations. They’re from countries as geographically disperse as Australia, Egypt, Germany, India, New Zealand, Norway, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, and United States.
(If you’re wondering why I only asked women, it was a deliberate move to broaden commentary on “our futures,” so people don’t think it’s the sole purview of older, white men. Also, because I believe women’s natural inclinations toward relationships and collaboration, communities and mutual support, are the future!)20 women of #foresight: Relationships & collaboration, communities & mutual support, are the future. Click To Tweet
The extent to which education should be aligned with future work has long been a point of contention. Futurist Anne Boysen believes that term is oxymoronic. Nevertheless, it’s one we all currently understand. Which is why I phrased my question that way.
Nevertheless, I look forward to a time when educational outcomes are synonymous with preparing young people for a future of freedom, or fulfilment, or whatever we individually and collectively decide marks a life well-lived. (Which, as our concluding commentator, Burson-Marsteller’s Elaine Cameron points out, may or may not involve work.)
Perhaps one day the following “joke” will no longer bear any resemblance to reality:
Rip Van Winkle on the problem with today's schools. 20 women of #foresight respond, with @DrLizAlexander Click To Tweet
Rip Van Winkle awakens in the 21st century after a hundred-year snooze and is bewildered by what he sees. Men and women dash about, talking to small metal devices pinned to their ears. Young people sit at home on sofas, moving miniature athletes around on electronic screens. Older folk defy death and disability with metronomes in their chests and with hips made of metal and plastic. Airports, hospitals, shopping malls–every place Rip goes he’s baffled. But when he finally walks into a schoolroom, the old man knows exactly where he is. “This is a school,” he declares. “We used to have these back in the 1900s. Only now the blackboards are white.”
Perhaps one day, as notions of command-and-control give way to coordinate-and-cultivate–as Thomas W. Malone outlined in his book on the future of work–generations will find the idea of schoolrooms and lecture halls “quaint” and old-fashioned. Even unhelpful in adequately preparing young people for anything other than a production line or Leffingwell-inspired offices.
For now, here’s what the following twenty women of foresight want to see changed in education.
A radical re-think
Lynn Curry, Ph.D. founded CurryCorp Inc. after a decade in higher and professional education, concluding with a Rosenstadt Professorship at the Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto. The firm works to enhance organizational results through targeted research, evaluation, operational review, governance adjustment and facilitation of organizational change. Twitter: @2LynnCurry
She speaks to what many believe is a long overdue overhaul of “education.”
“Change the structure of pre-K through university and life-long education. Become truly learner-oriented, which will mean real education personalization: content, delivery, timing, location, assessment, achievement certification. This will also require rethinking/ redeveloping all educational support systems: student placement/recruitment, admissions, content access, achievement tracking, financial aid. Time exposure will be irrelevant. Constantly updating goal sequencing and validity will be critical. Teacher roles will morph towards mentoring, which will require different teacher training, certification and recruitment.”What teacher's roles must morph towards. 20 women of #foresight explain. @2LynnCurry Click To Tweet
Speaking of mentoring, one strong theme woven throughout these contributions was the importance of developing whole, unique people who have their own motivations and dreams:
If there was one thing I could change in education to better prepare students for tomorrow’s world of work, it would be…
Educators: Develop learners with different potentials & futures @geci @NACE Click To Tweet
…for the mission of educators and institutions to enable the development of constantly evolving, conscious, learning beings with different potentials, dreams and futures. Education has to keep what was good in the past, but also adapt to intensely different contexts and futures.
- How do I most want to contribute to something larger than myself, aka my ‘mission in life’?
- In what work environment will I be able to make the meaningful contributions I’m capable of?
- How do I interact with others? What might derail my ambitions, dreams, and wishes? What can I do about it?”
~ Dr. Janice Presser, CEO of The Gabriel Institute, is a behavioral scientist and architect of the technology that powers Teamability®. Janice has authored seven books including the most recent, Timing Isn’t Everything.Educators: Emphasize HOW students will contribute to the world vs. expertise @DrJanice Click To Tweet
20 women of #foresight talk about the futures of learning and the futures of work with @DrLizAlexander Click To Tweet
Orient learning around inquiry and application. Young people need the opportunity to identify and explore their passions, understand themselves as whole people, and examine ways of making an impact in a world where we will increasingly need to demonstrate unique human value alongside machines, and navigate a complex landscape of paid work and other forms of value exchange.
~ Katherine Prince leads KnowledgeWorks’ exploration of the future of learning. As Senior Director, Strategic Foresight, she publishes forecasts, deep dives, and strategy guides on the future of learning. She also helps education stakeholders around the U.S. grapple with future possibilities, to inform vision and shape strategy. Twitter: @katprince
If there was one thing I could change in education to better prepare students for tomorrow’s world of work, it would be…
“To deeply consider the relationship between boys and girls; boys and boys; and girls and girls, both romantic and pre-collegial. Provide them with more time to think, play, laugh, experiment and explore their connections to themselves and the humans around them. Create an environment where students (especially girls) are guided to deeply consider their own worth or value, and give them the tools or strategies to communicate their needs to family, friends and romantic interests. Emphasize self-care, especially as it relates to stress-management, mental health and sexual exploration. Share power to allow students to experience how their actions fundamentally shape the humans and world around them.”
~ Emily Empel heads the foresight practice at Idea Couture, a global innovation firm. Before that, she led the Future Workforce Insights team for The Walt Disney Company as their Resident Futurist. Her recently published, The Future According to Women, offers views of the future generated entirely from the perspective of women.The futures of learning and work, according to 20 women of #foresight. @IdeaCouture with @DrLizAlexander Click To Tweet
Stop the tendency to reduce students to data points and dollar signs. @Alexandra4casts #foresight Click To Tweet
Make positive and personal human development the focus of education at every level. Eliminate the tendency to reduce students to data points and dollar signs. Support conditions for embracing different forms of knowledge and nurturing the individual and the community. Stop referring to people as “human capital” and “future workers.” Dispel the notion that there is a talent shortage–there’s not. There is a shortage of nurturing talent.
~ Alexandra Whittington is a foresight researcher for Fast Future Research in the UK, for whom she co-authored book chapters for The Future of Business. She is also a consulting futurist for Partners in Foresight and an adjunct lecturer at the University of Houston, where she helps plan and coordinate UH’s Certificate of Foresight seminar. Twitter: @Alexandra4casts
“Use the future to underpin what we learn and how we learn it, putting people at the centre of our education system and moving away from today’s structures and systems derived from the past. Putting the future at the core of education will mean students have skills and knowledge that they need not only for work today but that will also sustain them as the future of work emerges, whatever that may be.”
~ Maree Conway is a Strategic Foresight Practitioner and Researcher at Thinking Futures in Melbourne, Australia. Twitter: @mareeconwayPut the future at the core of education today @mareeconway with 20 women of #foresight Click To Tweet
“Specialize in being generalists”
Monika Conway of Thoughtful Futures is an internationally experienced designer, researcher, and future-thinker. She worked at two world-leading design and innovation consultancies – BMW Designworks USA and IDEO, and was an active facilitator of the IDEO/Stanford University design and innovation education programmes. Twitter: @monikaconway
She sums up this section as follows:
The future of learning and work? Specialize at being generalists. #foresight @monikaconway Click To Tweet
It’s about learning how to think, not what to think. We need problem-solvers who keep an open mind by questioning what they know. An ability to rethink, reassess, remix, redefine and recreate. It’s impossible to stand still in a moving and ever-changing world. We need to specialise at being generalists, applying our skills and knowledge in much broader, varied ways as the world collaborates at a new level.
We need compassion. As citizens of the world, we must consider humanity, empathy for people and respect for the planet before seeking profit.
Technology changes rapidly, while human values remain relatively the same. We need to design for human needs in a future technology-driven world. If we humanize technology we will remember why, and who we created it for. We need to be an inclusive part of the future we create.
The world will no longer tolerate humanity’s ignorance and self-inflicted problems. We must enable future generations to adapt to change, recognise their purpose and preemptively envision and reinvent a future-sustainable world we really need and want.
Focus on jobs
Given my original question, not surprisingly some of these women of foresight focused on jobs:
Celebrity futurist, Joyce Gioia, is CEO of The Herman Group. She is the author of three business bestsellers on the future of work. A world-class professional speaker, Gioia has spoken on seven continents, in 21 countries, and in 47 states for household names including Honda, SAP, and Procter and Gamble. Twitter: @
“If there was one thing I could change in education to better prepare students for the future of work, it would be to have employers work with the schools so that the schools create graduates prepared for the jobs that employers have for them.”20 women of #foresight: Changes in education to meet the futures of work @JoyceGioia Click To Tweet
Whereas Parminder Jassal, Ph.D. would like to see more emphasis placed to “recognize our transition to a learning economy, where performance is the new measuring stick.” Prior to becoming the founding executive director of ACT Foundation, Parminder served as a program officer supporting post-secondary success for low-income young adults at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Twitter: @ACTFDN
Imagine a future where learning and earning is synonymous! 20 women of #foresight @ACTFDN Click To Tweet
Offer every 14 -24 year old a “work and learn,” where work for pay is fully integrated into the learning program, could ensure an equitable future. This requires us to imagine a future where learning and earning is synonymous and new learning and career fields are discovered daily. We need to prepare working learners to own their journey into the learning economy.
Elizabeth Merritt thinks similarly. She’s the American Alliance of Museum’s Vice President for Strategic Foresight, and founding director of the Center for the Future of Museums, a think-tank and research & development lab for the museum field. Elizabeth is the author of the Alliance’s annual TrendsWatch report, and writes and speaks prolifically on the forces shaping the future of nonprofit organizations.
“If there was one thing I could change in education to better prepare students for the future of work, it would be to replace our current emphasis on rote learning and tests with more opportunities to do meaningful work. Education shouldn’t be an extended period of practice followed, eventually, by a “real job.” It should be a supportive environment that shows children from an early age that they can make a difference in the world.”What we'd change in education by 20 women of #foresight. Click To Tweet
A large minority of contributors referenced the specific skills needed to better prepare young people for very different organizations and approaches to work. Not least how they will need to be self-motivated to succeed in a future “gig economy“; develop empathy to become more human-centered technologists and leaders; and learn how to collaborate effectively (including cross-culturally) in constantly shifting distributed teams.
Students need to learn multidisciplinary skills. 20 women of #foresight with @DrLizAlexander Click To Tweet
If there was one thing I could change in education to better prepare students for the future of work, it would be to teach students multidisciplinary management skills. This would expose them to new skills that can help in organizational management. A major shift in management practices to accommodate a rapidly changing world of work and the information workers that inhabit this world will have the biggest impact on the way we work in the future.
~ Dr. Nisreen Lahham is founder and Head of Futures Studies Forum for Africa and the Middle East (FSF), a non-governmental organization aimed at reconnecting North Africa with its mother continent, that conducts futures studies and scanning future trends in North Africa.
“Sixty five percent of the class of 2030 will work in jobs that don’t exist today. Educational institutions really need to adapt to this reality very soon. This is an old trope, but most aspects of our current educational system are designed for an industrial model that won’t work much longer. There is an artificial boundary between theoretically and practically-based education. For example, you get your Ph.D. in sociology and learn everything about social conflict, but have no real-world tools to create or implement solutions. Or you get technical or vocational training in a specific industry, but continue to solve old problems as a peg in an old system, because you weren’t taught how to critically and contextually analyze your industry. Colleges need to train the next generation to become more entrepreneurial, sacrificing neither the strategic nor the tactical. This will become even more important when artificial intelligence starts taking over our jobs.”
~ Anne Boysen, M.S., is educated in strategic foresight, social science and data analysis. An international public speaker, she is also founder of After the Millennials, a popular destination for everything post-millennial, that attracts thousands of visitors from all over the world each month. Twitter: @Break down the boundaries between theory and practice in education. @aftermillennial #foresight roundup Click To Tweet
We want more focus on invention and innovation in classrooms. 20 women of #foresight discuss. Click To Tweet
If there was one thing I could change in education to better prepare students for tomorrow’s world of work, it would be to focus on invention and innovation in the classroom. Teaching youth through self-guided means how to successfully problem solve in ways that are applicable to the world they’ll inherit.
~ Dawn Quaker is the founder of AUKERA, an edtech marketplace that addresses the opportunity gap in the admissions process. Dawn also sits on the Global Board of the Columbia Venture Community as East Coast President and mentors for various organizations within New York City and the surrounding area. Twitter: d_quaker
“Add to every school’s curriculum emotional intelligence (EI) and resilience skills, to help students cope with life’s challenges and be prepared for tomorrow’s world of work. Many students lack the basic skills for how to control their reactions, how to build relationships, and how to resolve conflicts. Teaching students how to regulate their emotions will definitely help boost their levels of resilience and confidence, while trying to get onto the first rung of their career/professional ladder. Not to mention that it would be an ultimate solution to societal and parental concerns about violence, bullying, harassment, school dropouts and mental health problems. Social and emotional learning is the right of every student on this planet and must be taught as a sustainable practice at an early age.”
~ Furoozan Sharaf works as a Director of Corporate Support Department for The Executive Office of Dubai. This is the think tank office of the Ruler of Dubai, whose main mandate is to seek the prosperity of the City of Dubai and the welfare of its people.Social and emotional learning is the right of every student on this planet. 20 women of #foresight Click To Tweet
A majority of our current education system fails to teach students how to deal with uncertainty and more importantly, how to be comfortable with open-ended questions. I didn’t learn this skill until I was in architecture school. It’s less about coming to terms with working beside a robot or engaging in the “gig economy”; the future worker will be better equipped if they have been taught how to thrive in a state of constant change. To be comfortable in the other. To understand how to actively adapt or proactively mitigate.
~ Radha Mistry is part of the Applied Research and Consulting group at Steelcase, where she seeks out ways in which organizations, large and small, can drive Innovation through design. She has a background in architecture, strategic foresight and narrative environments, and has previously worked for companies such as Arup Foresight in London and San Francisco. Twitter: @Teach students to deal with uncertainty, comfort with open-ended questions. @radha_mistry #foresight Click To Tweet
If there was one thing I could change in education to better prepare students for tomorrow’s world of work, it would be to teach the value of, art in, and fluency with interpersonal communications. In yesterday, today and tomorrow’s working world social connections and collaborative potential are the most unique assets we, as humans, hold. Educators must promote curiosity and collective engagement to better equip students for everything from job interviews, to client interactions, to being expert presenters. For whatever shape our futures take the ability to communicate has, is, and will remain our most valuable asset. Be it with human or robot.”
~ Jonelle Simunich is a Foresight Specialist on Arup’s Global Foresight, Research + Innovation team. Her expertise lies in built space, architectural design, curated learning and urban anthropology. Twitter: @foresightdaily and @ArupForesight.Interpersonal comms skills: students greatest asset with humans or robots. @foresightdaily + 20 futurists speak Click To Tweet
We need more EI taught in schools, for an AI future, say 20 women of #foresight with @DrLizAlexander Click To Tweet
Make all schools and education institutions inclusive, adapting them to the needs of the disabled and other marginalized groups; make karate and yoga part of the sports curriculum; teach learners to self-direct and self-manage, in terms of dealing with emotions and of steering one’s actions, of what to learn, why and how. The latter is critical in the future work world where occupations change rapidly and hierarchies crumble. To deal with this, we must first of all be able to set direction for ourselves, and to deal with change and obstacles; self-management ensures the ability to make such decisions.
~ Cornelia Daheim is a futurist who has been supporting companies and institutions in anticipating and shaping the future since 2000, with customers ranging from the European Commission and Parliament to BASF, BBVA, Alstom or the South Korean Telecom. She’s also a reading addict and a practitioner and ambassador of new work forms, as well as the founder of Future Impacts Consulting in Germany. Twitter: @CorneliaDaheim
Rebecca Searles makes this overarching point about skills development for the world of tomorrow:
“We’ve made good progress pushing STEM education, but we have failed to emphasize the importance of “synthesizers.” It’s not enough to teach young people how to code, we need to teach them how to synthesize new ideas, think critically, problem-solve, and look at the big picture. We can’t afford to produce a generation of robot engineers; we need people who can lead with wild curiosity, creativity and insight about what’s coming and how to tackle it.”
~ Rebecca is a science journalist and a product manager for a media tech startup called Sonr. She writes often about science, tech, and culture, and recently founded a group for women futurists to encourage more women to participate in conversations about emerging technology.We can't afford to produce a generation of robot engineers. @beccabigwords+20 women of #foresight Click To Tweet
Which leaves the final word (well, almost!) to Elaine Cameron, Burson-Marsteller’s resident futurist and Senior Director.
Recently named one of the world’s top futurists, Elaine speaks and writes about a broad range of topics such as mega trends, mobility, technology, m-health, communications and corporate purpose. An area of particular focus has been on the trends driving the rising economic empowerment of women consumers and the future of women in leadership, otherwise known as Feminomics. Twitter: @
We want education to teach students how to be happy & have a purpose beyond work @FUTUREPersp Click To Tweet
If there was one thing I could change in education to better prepare students for the future of work, it would be to teach them how to be happy and have a purpose beyond work, in case they are automated out of the job market.
As for me…
What would I want to see happen more in schools and colleges today? Unlearning! A concept that resonated with many people after I wrote this article for Fast Company. We need to unlearn habits inherent in command-and-control environments and embrace the mindset and skills needed for a world transitioning towards co-ordinate-and-cultivate.
Unlearning is crucial, not only for the benefit of students, but as part of the professional development of teachers, administrators and policy-makers. For example, as I walked into staff offices at The University of Texas at Austin where I used to work and teach, I would notice proudly-displayed plaques on the wall. Ones that celebrated that person’s tenure for the past 10, 15, 20 years…oftentimes even longer. As far as the older professors were concerned, once in position they stayed…and stayed…and stayed.Education shouldn't just be about learning, but also how to unlearn! 20 women of #foresight Click To Tweet
So many questions, right? But that’s where we need to start before we rush to make more Band-Aid changes to something as important as education: Question our assumptions. Look for an array of evidence that doesn’t further bolster our confirmation bias. Weigh up arguments and counter-arguments. Prepare to be wrong.
We must encourage more voices to be heard in the debate. Not least, what students of all ages want for themselves!
Here’s a question for you:
Do those currently tasked with maintaining our existing institutions of education have the motivation and innovative thinking necessary to transition students into a completely different paradigm: a fundamentally new world of “work”?
We’ve had our say. What do you think?Join 20 women of #foresight to discuss the futures of learning & tomorrow's work Click To Tweet