How to future-proof your child's learning

Children and robotics
Is your primary-school child getting the education they'll need to thrive in the 21st century? Jill Hodges, CEO and Founder of Fire Tech technology classes and camps for kids, describes the five skills young people will need, at work and in life, to make the most of our technological society's opportunities.

Thirty years ago it would have been hard to imagine the future that has come to pass. As we all know from our work, personal and social lives, the world is changing fast – and the rate of change has been accelerating in the last decade. At this rate, the jobs and work demands placed on us in five years, let alone 30, could be unrecognisable!

The best time to prepare the next generation of adults to thrive in this flexible future is childhood. The skills we learn at school, if delivered correctly, can be the tools which arm us to cope with tomorrow.

It can often seem like the dominant education methods used today train tomorrow’s adults to memorise and recite for a rigid world of predictable answers, not to think flexibly for uncertain times. But there are skills we can inculcate, at an early age, that will
better help today’s primary-schoolers to flourish in the 21st century…

21st century skill: asking questions

“What is robotics used for?” “How can I use technology to remind me to do my homework every night?” The answers to these questions are now radically different to those which were accepted five years ago. And, in the future, they will have changed even more.

Thriving in the future, then, requires not so much being handed the answers to today’s problems and being trained to memorise them but, rather, providing a framework for asking the right questions in a fast-changing world.

In a world of information, knowing the right answer is actually becoming far less important than knowing the right question to ask. Kids should know how to search, research and frame the question they are really asking.

21st century skill: resilience

Nobody likes failing, but learning to identify deficiencies and improve upon them is becoming a vital skill. In traditional education, success often seems like a binary game of “fail” or “pass”. We need to construct teaching as a narrative that encourages risk-taking, and helps pupils back up on their feet, to enable them to learn from trying things out in various different ways en route to enhanced understanding. That is what life is like.

Many kids have a fear of failure. But the kind of whirlwinds being swept up in the future global economy demand a recognition that continual improvements and changes of direction are necessary. That is why project-based work which can make time for invention, iteration and enhancement can often be a better learning tool than having the one correct answer to a very specific question.

21st century skill: adaptability

The tales of Kodak and Nokia, almost forgotten giants of their industries, tell us that being expert in a single fixed discipline undergoing large-scale disruption is precarious. But nothing is fixed any longer; disruption is the norm. We need the next generation not to have a rigid mindset or a fixed palette of tools at its disposal but, rather, to keep up with changes and to use everything available.

To achieve this, we must expose our children to change – to teach that the range of things they are interested in or can take joy from is not a static or finite pool. One day, you may be playing in goal; the next, on the wing. Both of these things are different, and are a unique challenge, but both can be just as rewarding and enjoyable. The player that learns to embrace switching gear is the one who will reap the rewards!

21st century skill: creativity

It is often said that children lose their creativity in later years. We must not let that happen!

The application of creativity is not just an intangible, is not just about bringing play into adulthood. What really defines creativity is an ability to think of ideas unencumbered by reasons they cannot or should not be executed. In other words, blue-sky thinking.

Creativity is a permissiveness to engage in risk-taking that may not lead anywhere meaningful – but which may yet create an amazing outcome. Too often, we constrain things by immediately ruling out an idea or activity as unviable; in fact, we should not be killing momentum at the start, we should be encouraging permission to rule everything in and refine an idea along the way.

21st century skill: problem-solving

If your goal is simply to get an “A” in your tests, feeling connected to the task at hand can be challenging. That is why the best way to learn can often be to feel a sense of investment.

When we have a goal with a purpose, it is made real enough for us to care about the problem, the solution and the process in between. Who wouldn't be interested in finding a solution to an everyday problem they're experiencing – and finding it themselves? But your child’s problem doesn’t have to be personal, it could be societal: saving the whales, boosting local recycling or contributing to whatever cause they are interested in. When you identify a problem that you care about, setting out to solve it becomes meaningful enough that you enjoy the journey, are driven toward an outcome and will do whatever it takes to find the solution.

The future belongs to our children

My favourite quote about education is: “Knowledge is not the filling of a bucket but the lighting of a fire.” We shouldn’t just fill up our youngsters with today’s knowledge; that, tomorrow, could become stale and dry.

But we can ignite a chain of curiosity that will develop skills to make better children and resilient, flexible adults, able to adapt to and build the future.

All of tomorrow is on offer to our children, they just need an open and curious mind to embrace it!

Fire Tech Camp is the UK's leading provider of tech education for young people 9-17 years old. Fire Tech courses, day camps and holiday camps help young people make things with technology, and to learn design thinking, problem-solving, communication and collaboration in the process.