Today’s guest blog is written by Dr. Avis Glaze. Avis was one of Finding Common Ground’s 18 Women all educators Should Know. She played a key role in helping to improve education when she served as the first Chief Student Achievement Officer of Ontario and Founding CEO of the Literacy and Numeracy Secretariat.
My long-standing interest in the trends research began when I was a classroom teacher. I remember hearing a statement which has stayed with me over the years. It says: “The future belongs to those who can see it coming!”
It is my belief that as educators, we should be aware of future trends because we are educating young people for the future. Statistics tell us that many will have working lives of more than forty years after graduation. Even though trends may change, knowing what they are will help us prepare children for the future, however uncertain it may be.
Trends provide us with glimpses over the horizon and into the future. They tell us that our graduates will have to deal with changing landscapes, patterns, opportunities and needs. They help us understand the pitfalls and the possibilities. By studying them we can anticipate impacts and give our students the knowledge, skills, attitudes and dispositions to deal with the unknown. Most importantly, we can prepare them and ourselves to become solution-finders locally, nationally and internationally.
I am in constant contact with Trends Researcher, Gary Marx, whose work I have used extensively over the years. For Marx, the future is in our schools today. He reminds us that as educators, we are engaged in the important task of educating the nation’s children. He points out that “looking into the future and dealing with societal trends is an opportunity to demonstrate our intellectual leadership.” Like me, he has confidence in the ability of educators to get the job done. His recent publication of his twenty-one trends touches on a number of areas that educators should address in an intentional and systematic manner. His trends focus on the following broad headings:
Generations, Diversity, Aging, Technology, Identity and Privacy, Economy, Jobs and Careers, Energy, Environmental/Planetary Security, Sustainability, International/Global, Personalization, Ingenuity, Depth, Breadth, and Purposes of Education, Polarization, Authority, Ethics, Continuous Improvement, Poverty, Scarcity vs. Abundance, and Personal Meaning and Work-Life Balance.
For the purpose of this article, I will focus on three of these trends, and discuss briefly their implications for education.
1. In a series of tipping points, majorities will become minorities, creating ongoing challenges for social cohesion (Diversity).
In recent years we have seen evidence of this trend across the world. Much needed immigration from developing countries is changing the ethno-racial texture of most communities. When one looks at the changing demographics of one of Canada’s largest cities, Toronto, one can see that this trend is indeed a reality.
The National Household Survey (NHS) showed that Toronto residents identified more than 230 countries of birth with 51 percent stating that English was their first language. When looking at Canada as a whole, the NHS showed that Canada was home to about 6,7775,800 foreign-born individuals in 2011. This represents 20.6% of the population, compared to 19.8% in the 2006 Census (Statistics Canada). Our increasing diversity requires educational leaders who will create learning environments that welcome and celebrate the rich ethno-cultural fabric of our schools. They must lead the way in showing society that diversity works and diverse human interactions enrich and strengthen our communities.
2. Pressure will grow for society to prepare people for jobs and careers that may not currently exist. (Jobs and Careers)
As an educator, I have always recognized that schools help to prepare students to assume many life roles - one of which is the selection of a career which will enable them to lead productive and self-sustaining lives. For that reason I am convinced that career development must be an essential component of a good education.
Depending on the background and experiences of students, they may or may not be exposed to a wide spectrum of role models in a variety of occupations. We do know that children are more likely to identify with and aspire to be in occupations to which they have been exposed. The work of Albert Bandura (1994) attests to the importance of modeling. This helps individuals visualize themselves in the positions to which they aspire. If a young person has never met or read about an astronaut, university professor, plumber or chef, it is unlikely that he or she will aspire to be in that profession. That is why it is so important for schools to have vibrant career education programs that expose students to role models from diverse backgrounds.
For me, career education is an educational equity imperative. As an aspect of general education, it has the potential to enhance the future roles and the life chances of students. As an instructional strategy, career education can improve educational outcomes. All students, regardless of ability, program placement, or career aspirations, should be engaged in a systematic program of career development. These programs can help students see the relationship between learning and earning; between what they are learning in school and what they will do later on in life. This is particularly helpful to students who are contemplating dropping out of school. This happens sometimes because they are bored or because they cannot see the relevance of what they are learning for their future. It is not unusual for them to ask: “why am I learning this? What’s this got to do with anything?”
As teachers and educational leaders let’s ensure that career development activities are gradual and cumulative, beginning in early childhood, when students learn about the many work roles in communities and the interconnectedness of workers in society. Let’s create opportunities for them to explore career alternatives and ultimately to make career choices based of a knowledge of the many opportunities that exist for them. Through increased self-awareness, students can recognize that they have the potential to develop the skills they need to realize their dreams. Ultimately, everyone benefits from career development - the individuals and society as a whole. That’s why career education must be seen as an educational imperative.
There is a lot of pressure on students during this period of their lives. In fact, many years ago, Breton (1972), author of a major study on 150,000 Canadian youth, concluded that the notion of “career indecision” can have a devastating impact of students. As they approach graduation many compare themselves with the peers who are more certain about what they want to do. This career indecision can become a major cause of anxiety among teenagers.
All of us who work in schools can play a role in helping students develop these life skills. While a student waits in the office to see the principal, a secretary can take a moment to share what it takes and the skills that are necessary to be a school secretary. Our custodians can tell children about their work, the work of their children and the importance of a good education. Our education assistants can talk about the importance of a good work ethic, getting to work on time or the difference that a positive attitude can make in the workplace.
Parents have a key role in career development. They expose children to the values that support a strong career orientation. They can speak positively about their work and its importance to their organizations regardless of where they are on the hierarchy. They can demonstrate that all work is of value to society, contributing to one’s feelings engagement and accomplishment. They can highlight the fact that work enhances human dignity and provides the opportunity for individuals to do something they considers to be of value. All of us, especially parents, have a pivotal role to play in the career development of our youth.
I encourage educational leaders to have in place a systematic and intentional career development program - one in which all members of the school staff are engaged in assisting students with making one of the most important decisions of their lives - that of choosing an initial occupation. When students are not yet certain about a specific occupation, the literature tells us that they may have a career cluster, such as the humanities or the arts, in mind. From a career counseling perspective, that is equally important for them to explore these clusters as it help with awareness of occupations that they may not have considered. But we must also make it clear that there is research that indicates that individuals change occupations many times throughout their lives. So flexibility is an important life skill. Students should also learn about the transferable skills they possess as they will, inevitably, change occupations many times over the working lives.
Today we read a lot about twenty first century skills. Wagner, (2008) offers his ideas on the schooling students need and the seven survival skills that should be an integral part of schooling. These are:
- Critical thinking and problem solving
- Collaboration and leadership
- Agility and adaptability
- Initiative and entrepreneurialism
- Effective oral and written communication
- Accessing and analyzing information
- Curiosity and imagination
Educators in general, and career developers in particular, should pay special attention to the emphasis that is being placed on these skills. I would like to add to this list: character attributes such as empathy, respect and optimism. As well, global awareness and understanding is essential for global citizenship.
The teaching of these personal and interpersonal competencies is not entirely new. Many schools already have these as a focus. But there aren’t many schools that are addressing these skills with the intentionality and comprehensiveness that they deserve. There is certainly a resurgence of discussions about these skills by business leaders who often refer to them as the “soft” skills. What we also need to add to this discussion is that the soft skills are often the hard skills to develop. But they can be taught successfully if we consider then an important aspect of education.
3. Scientific discoveries and societal realities will force widespread ethical choices.(Ethics)
One of my concerns as an educator is the question of how we preparing our students today to make ethical choices and decisions. I know that many parents and educators take this issue seriously. But they need institutional policies and programs to help students develop the values and skills that lead to ethical decision making. In too many systems, people are afraid to address values, fearing that they will offend diverse communities. But I believe that the greater the diversity, the greater the need to find common ground on the values we hold in common and to ensure that these are being taught in schools.
Let’s take a moment to think about some of the scientific advancements that we are now dealing with that will become more pervasive in our society. These include, but are not limited to:
- Human and therapeutic cloning
- Animal cloning
- Food irradiation
- Stem cell research
- Medical research using live animals
- Research into extending human lifespan
- Genetic engineering
- Sale of human organs
- Artificial human organs
- Medical research using fetal tissue
- Chemical and biological weapons
- Determining the best energy producing strategies
- Building bigger and stronger weapons
The question for us to contemplate is this: on what basis will our students make these decisions today or in the roles that they will play later on in society? What values will guide their decisions? Who is teaching these values today? Can we assume and rely on the fact that they are being taught in all schools and homes? In our diverse and pluralistic society, whose values are being taught? Do we have consensus on these values? Have we put in place strategies to build consensus and to find common ground?
One of the strategies that can make a difference is a character development program in our schools. This, of course, must be developed through a process of parent support and arrived at with the widest possible cross-section of our community, including our diverse religious and other societal groups. When community members are brought together to find common identify the attributes that should be taught in schools, we can also create the opportunity to engage students in discussing moral dilemmas that they confront in their lives. It also helps them learn decision-making and other life skills.
Many years ago, when I served in the York Region District School Board, and later in Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board in Ontario, Canada, we instituted similar programs with strong community support. These programs are now evident in many Ontario schools. We developed the Ministry of Education document, Finding Common Ground: Character Education in Ontario Schools to serve as a framework and catalyst for the implementation of this province-wide strategy. Another article which I wrote a few years ago, Character Development: Education at its Best (2011), describes the process used to implement character development programs in Ontario schools.
We also documented many stories from schools that were implementing these strategies. Principals and teachers reported that they saw marked differences in discipline and that student achievement improved because teachers spent less time dealing with behavior issues and more time on teaching.
As Marvin Berkowitz, a valued colleague and leader in character education states:
Schools simply have to contribute to the formation of civic character if the nation is to survive... Finally, good character education is good education. In fact, recent findings show that effective character education supports and enhances the academic goals of schools; in short, good character education also promotes learning." (Berkowitz, 2005)
In sum, I would like to encourage all who work with students to rekindle and keep alive their motivation for learning and community involvement. We are engaged in the noblest of professions. We have the ability to inspire hope and optimism each day we enter our schools and classrooms. We do important work. And as long as there are children to educate, we cannot afford to become cynical or dispirited. We are engaged in an epic quest to prepare students to become individuals who will raise their communities and their country to higher levels of caring, compassion and concern.
Educators today certainly have an indomitable spirit and an unrelenting resolve to educate hearts and minds successfully. We have the will and the skills to prepare students to take their place in nation building.
- Bandura, A. (1977). Social Learning Theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
- Berkowitz, M. W., & Bier, M. C. (2005). What works in character education: A research-driven guide for educators. Washington, DC: Character Education Partnership.
- Breton, R. (1972). Social and academic factors in the career decisions of Canadian youth: A study of secondary school students. With the collaboration of John McDonald and Stephen Richer. Ottawa: Manpower and Immigration, Program Development.
- Glaze, Avis. (2011). Character Development: Education at its Best. ASCD Manitoba Journal Reflections, Volume 11, Summer 2011.
- Marx, Gary (2014) Twenty-One Trends for the 21st Century...Out of the Trenches...and into the Future, Education Week Press/Editorial Projects in Education, Bethesda, MD.
- Ministry of Education (2011). Finding Common Ground: Character Development in Ontario School Education in Ontario.
- Toronto’s Shifting Demographics
- Statistics Canada
The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.