So there you are, one of the few, disparate survivors of The Event. Caught like a rabbit in a trap, you are brought before the psychopathic, leather-clad local warlord who is to decide whether you are useful or whether he should just kill you for the fun of it. What do you say? What valuable skills might you trade for your life?
I think that the 21st century skills movement has not been anywhere near ambitious enough. It has not asked the right questions. Yes, we all know that there will be jobs in the 21st century that don’t exist yet, even though we are already in the 21st century. Obviously, all of the jobs that we can think of – accountant, plumber – already exist and so this proves that we can’t possibly name and describe the non-existent ones. In such a case, how can we prepare our students for them?
We also know that it is impossible to teach children the knowledge that they will need in the 21st century. The rate at which cat photos and fake Einstein quotes are being uploaded to the internet means that nobody could possibly memorise them all. So we have to prepare for this brave future. But what of the future after the future? Won’t somebody please think of that?
When the apocalypse comes, there will be some absolutely essential skills that all survivors will need in order to… survive. They will need to be creative, have the capacity to think critically and be able to work in teams. Clearly, the education systems of the past that produced all of the scientists, inventors and artists who contributed to a vast flowering of human knowledge and increased standards of living; these education systems will be insufficient to the task.
Instead, we must engage children in randomly making whatever they feel like and we need to get them to do role-plays and stuff like that.
Of course, there are those who dissent from this vision. Thinkers like E D Hirsch systematically mine culture for that which has endured on the assumption that knowledge that has been valuable in the past is our best guide to what might be of value in the future, both for work and for pleasure. Oh.
As for me, when the time comes and I’m hauled before that warlord, I think I’ve worked out what I’m going to go with. I won’t try and sell him on my ability to collaborate or my creativity. I won’t even mention my proficiency with 21st century technologies. Instead, I think I’ll go with the fact that I can make beer from scratch. That might work.