What was once seen as a far-off future is already here, while artificial intelligence (AI), automation and globalisation are expected to bring even more significant changes to how we work.

Many New Zealand schools are already moving to educate their students for this fast-moving world by teaching ‘21st-century (21C) skills’ such as collaboration, digital literacy, critical thinking, problem solving and even empathy.
Many educators believe these aptitudes are essential for learning and employment, both now and in the future.

When specialist education facility The Mind Lab started in 2013, it aimed to give children the chance to experience different ways of learning, from coding and robotics to
stop-frame animation and 3D printing.

Educating teachers now the focus

Just six years later, says The Mind Lab founder Frances Valintine, the majority of New Zealand primary schools are now teaching in a way that is “highly collaborative, project-based, inquiry-led and digital where appropriate… instead of a very one-size-fits-all [approach]”.

As a result, The Mind Lab’s main focus is now on educating teachers. Since launching its Digital and Collaborative Learning postgraduate programme four years ago, it has taught more than 4,500 teachers – or one in every 15 teachers – in more than 30 centres across the country.

“The world has moved fully from analogue to digital,” Valintine says. “Literally everything has changed. It’s not about knowing digital skills as a priority – it’s actually the tools of today.”

When it comes to 21C skills, Valintine says adaptability is crucial.
“The ability to understand and be able to flex in the way we think.”

Critics argue that it is not possible to think if you don’t know anything to begin with.
Yet information now comes and goes, says Valintine; while some facts will hold for decades, other information quickly becomes dated.

“It’s really about filtering through what we need to know now, and where the general trajectory is of what we need to know for the future.”

Another argument is that digital learning is lightweight and simply involves looking things up on Google.

Not so, says Valintine. “I actually think the other way – students can validate the source, use comparative data and test theories.”

In that way learning becomes rich, personalised and in-depth.

“I would challenge anyone to say a typical 12-year-old today knows less than one of my generation.

“They have a vast abundance of knowledge at their fingertips and understanding, and they ask questions that I wouldn’t have comprehended, in any way, at that age.”
Foundation skills such as reading, writing and basic arithmetic remain “the building blocks of all knowledge”.

Yet even this could change in the future.

Keyboards becoming redundant

Valintine predicts keyboards could become redundant within the next five years, thanks to advances in voice technology, such as Amazon’s virtual assistant Alexa.
This will have a huge impact and inevitably throws up more questions about educating for the future.

The ability to communicate orally will become a priority, she says.

“Are people comfortable with their children spending very little time perfecting their handwriting, versus wanting to understand the narrative of storytelling?”

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