What makes a student future-ready: O-level or GCSE? IB Diploma or A-Level? Academies, Grammar schools, or Faith schools? These issues seem to be the focus of debate about education today.
However, instead of focusing on ‘how’ should education be imparted, isn’t it a lot more important to first ponder ‘what’ education should be imparted, given the fast changing contours of the 21st century, when mechanisation, automation, and now robots and AI are changing the very fabric of employment and entrepreneurship? Isn’t it worth wondering if, like the primary colours Red, Green and Blue, which can be mixed to create millions of colours, are there some core skills and competencies, that when learnt, will prepare students to shine, whatever be the shape of things to come?
The 19thand 20th century paradigm of stockpiling knowledge, usually in the form of a University degree, that almost guaranteed lifelong employment is no longer viable, and while the focus of formal education is on ‘vertical skills’ like math, science, history, or marketing and finance, people who excel in different fields have an additional set of ‘horizontal skills’ which are often described as 21st century skills. For example, UNESCO’s report ‘Learning the Treasure Within – Education for the Twenty-first Century’ describes the four pillars of education as – Learning to Know, Learning to Do, Learning to Live Together, and Learning to Be.
Researching, creating online learning content in multiple formats and conducting regular workshops in remote, rural schools in India to impart life skills to make students future-ready has given me the unique opportunity of interacting with many hues of learners and closely observing challenges of education in a multitude of situations, from metropolitan London to hinterland India. Based on the insights gained I think the RGB life skills are:
Yearning to Learn: how to fire up the learner within, remaining curious, taking ownership of own learning, and being able to answer four questions for yourself: What is worth learning? How will you learn it? How will you know you have learnt it well? How will you become better at learning new things?
Learning to Think: deep and independent thinking, critical, creative and computational thinking, being able to formulate insightful questions, pattern recognition, understanding complexity, ability to solve unstructured problems, ability to innovate and judicious decision making.
Learning to Be: understanding the construct of your emotions, ability to rewrite the script that plays inside your head and determines how you interpret and react to life situations, setting goals that go beyond self-interest, deep self-awareness and living a joyful life.
Once you have awareness and clarity about the RGB life skills, you can chart the ‘how’ of the learning journey for yourself, or for your loved ones, not relying just on formal education but also making the most of the tonnes of informal learning experiences now available, many of them online for free.