Maths teacher Ed Read reflects on the skills his students need to be learning.
It has been said that the top 10 “in-demand” jobs today did not exist ten years ago. The implications of this are startling and, to an educator, faintly terrifying. How am I supposed to teach my pupils the skills and knowledge they will need to succeed in the world when in five years time the economy could look completely different? Globalization is moving faster than we educators can keep up with.
I teach maths, and people often say to me that maths exams are getting easier. I looked up the O-level maths exam my father sat and some of the questions completely stumped me. The Shame! But does this mean that maths education is not as good? I am not sure. My father sat that exam in 1966, long before the pocket calculator arrived, and the fact is we want today’s pupils to have different skills than we used to. My father’s mental arithmetic is likely to always be better than mine, but it will never be better than my Casio’s. So are maths exams easier or are they just testing different skills? For those curious about the research behind claims about exams, this article by Ben Goldacre makes for interesting reading.
It’s getting harder and harder to predict what skills we will require our citizens to have. In a constantly shifting market what skills will always be needed?
1. To know how to learn. Every shift and change will mean having to learn new skills and new trades, people need to be able to adapt.
2. To think and act creatively. A constantly changing world will need constantly changing solutions.
3. To think and act critically. Seeing potential problems before they emerge will be essential in the hydra-headed market.
4. To think and act globally. Our world is increasingly integrated and interdependent, having a cultural awareness and being part of a global community is going to be ever more important, but also exciting.
These are the core skills that I believe everyone will need to prosper. This is by no means an exhaustive list, I was going to put the ability to communicate, but even that has changed radically over the last 10 years – who could have predicted Twitter? The communication skills of today may be completely different to the communication skills of the future.
My grandfather left school at 14 and started work on a farm: he knows how to fix a horse to a cart, shear a sheep and milk a cow. When he was 16 he began work in the mines. In his late 30s he moved away from the town where he grew up and worked first for British Steel and then for a chemical engineering company. He told me proudly recently that in his life he has spent a grand total of one week unemployed. He retired in 1989, the year I was born. I have none of the specific skills he has and I am not likely to ever learn them. But what I hope my grandfather has passed on to me is his ability adapt to change, because the world is moving a lot faster now than it did for him.
So how do we make sure our young people are equipped to do this? As a teacher this is a question I ask myself every day. We should no longer be teaching students what to think, but how to think.
In my next blog I’ll talk about what we can do to instil these skills in today’s students and tomorrow’s workers. In the meantime, I’d like to hear from you – what skills do you think will help our pupils to navigate tomorrow’s world?
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