Reading and math are important skills. Everyone might agree that they should be included in a learning plan. However, there are numerous ways to engage children in learning–not all of them geared with a look to the future. For example, learning to read is a milestone no matter how it is accomplished. But once it is accomplished, is it cherished and celebrated or checked-off on a long list of checkboxes our education system uses to measure success? Here are five tips for preparing learners to thrive in a global, connected future.
1. Encourage life-long learning. In the not-too-distant future, computers will change the way doctors treat patients. People will be connected to information about other people and places through wearable electronic devices embedded in clothing or accessories. Fossil fuels will be history and new sustainable technologies will power our world. These are just some of the changes that our children will face as they grow to adulthood. Are we preparing them for living in a connected, technology-centered existence? There isn’t a way to teach the math and physics of technologies yet undiscovered. In fact, it is highly possible that today’s physics is wrong. The best plan is to encourage children to relish learning. Worksheets, quizzes, and standardized tests are not effective tools here. Instead, empower children to follow individualized learning paths, support their needs for mentors, supplies, and resources, and celebrate engagement.
2. Embrace technology. Like it or not, society is becoming increasingly technological. Basic computing skills are not enough in a globally competitive marketplace. Emerging markets around the globe are innovating with mobile devices and reinventing banking systems, communication norms, and low-cost transportation solutions. Printed works will continue to diminish, new content, including college textbooks, may only be available digitally, and college courses may become something you do for a few hours per day on your iPhone. Most schools in the U.S. still ban mobile devices in classrooms, yet these are the most powerful and affordable learning tools on the planet.
3. Reward curiosity. Curiosity goes along with encouraging life-long learning. A child’s questions should never be dismissed as silly, inappropriate, or annoying. Instead, encourage questions, respect differing opinions, and reward curious behavior. Classrooms that reward compliance and order are killing curiosity. Curious minds solve problems, find innovative solutions, and question injustices.
4. Hack the world. The word ‘hack’ in this case means simply to modify or change. Encourage children to write their own endings to stories they enjoy. Help children modify their toys to make them more interesting. Build your own computer from spare parts. Install a small camera on a remote controlled helicopter and take photos from the air. Learn to make things from other things that might otherwise be discarded. Join a hackerspace in your community and learn basics of microcontrollers.
5. Embrace diversity. As technology brings communication tools within reach of more and more of the world, people around the world will continue to connect with each other for business, learning, and social interaction. Encourage tolerance, celebrate differences, embrace other religions, races, cultures and ethnicities. These are tools for global cooperation in science, the arts, and peace.
So, reading and math are important skills at the foundation of all learning. However, teaching them as opposed to fostering learning within and around them is short-sighted. Prepare children for the future by encouraging open-minded curiosity, providing plenty of opportunities for children to hack their learning landscape, and connecting and embracing the world’s amazing diversity.