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The State Of Education: Teaching for the Future

04/13/10 5:55PM By Rich Nadworny
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(HOST) We continue our series of commentaries on education this evening with thoughts from Rich Nadworny. His digital world is moving so fast that he wonders how you teach kids to succeed in an ever-changing environment.

(NADWORNY) Over the last few weeks, we parents in Burlington have had the chance to interview principal candidates for the Lyman Hunt Middle School.  It's been interesting to sit with other parents and get a bead on what adults think schools should teach their kids.

When I look at the type of education I want my kids to have, I have two frames of reference.  The first is from my work as a digital strategist and marketer.  I can't imagine a field where things are changing faster, and more drmatically, than in communications.  But the reality is that almost all fields in the 21st century are either changing rapidly or experiencing a complete revolution.  How do you prepare kids to succeed in that future?

Well, it's not by teaching what we did in the 20th century - preparing kids for 20th century jobs - that's for sure.  A lot of what I heard in the principal interviews dealt with "rigorous" teaching.  That means studying and teaching hard, so kids do well on tests.  And while that may have some merit, it doesn't necessarily prepare kids to succeed.

In the digital business, it's not enough to understand how to master a certain software program.  Yes, you have to know how to use the tools.  But, more importantly, you have to know how to learn new tools, how to solve problems you've never seen before, and to experiment.  Teaching students to solve problems that have single, set answers is a 20th century process.  In the 21st century, we barely know what the questions are, because the problems are changing every day.

My second frame of reference is from authors such as Daniel Pink and Seth Godin.  In the books A Whole New Mind and Linchpin both Pink and Godin promote more right-brained and experimental teaching that helps students develop creative and leadership skills, rather than rote and followers skills.  They argue that the skills needed by the industrial age are not the ones needed in the post-industrial age.

We all know about the vast number of engineers China and India mass-produce.  Take India, where only 10% of the population actually has a college education.  It's a low percentage for now, but 10% of a billion is still 100 million people.  That's a numbers game we can't win.  We have to play a different game.

The success for our country and for our children in the 21st century will depend more and more on creative thinkers who are able to harness technology to solve problems and make life, and businesses, better.  Innovation, problem-solving, and personal communications skills will drive economic growth and job opportunities.

The big question is: Do our current schools prepare kids to succeed in this world?  It's time to build a very different 21st century curriculum for our kids.

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