Preparing students for an uncertain future

In the world of education today, we are preparing our students for an uncertain future. Some jobs which we have today will not exist 20 years from now. New jobs are being created all the time, the likes of which we can hardly imagine.

Our current educational system was primarily designed during the industrial revolution. We needed clerks and factory workers to keep the economy moving forward, along with relatively small numbers of professionals and entrepreneurs. This was sufficient for a time, but it is clearly inadequate for the 21st century.

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In response to this, the British Columbia Ministry of Education redesigned the curriculum. The question remains, however, as to how we prepare our young people for an uncertain future.

We need to keep in mind that "uncertain" does not have to mean "frightening." Even in our most stable times in history we have faced many uncertainties. Countries went to war, economies crashed, and new inventions created demand for new products. We have always had to adapt. Some people, however, have handled these changes better than others.

As I reflect back on my own education, I realize there are many skills I learned in school that I do not use in my life today, and there is a great deal I had to learn beyond the classroom. To believe that our schools can teach our children everything they will need to know in life by the time they are 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 have 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. In other words, 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 are a gift" on each small piece of paper and put them up. What this communicates to every person is not only is she or he valuable, so is everyone around them.

This is a message affirmed in a book of Indigenous wisdom commonly taught today 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 Gandhi: "my life is my message."

- Gerry Chidiac is a champion for social enlightenment, inspiring others to find their greatness in making the world a better place. For more of his writings, go to www.gerrychidiac.com

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