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Opinion
Curriculum Commentary

We Need to Modernize Education. The Clock Is Ticking

By Charles Fadel — December 11, 2017 2 min read
15 Comm2 Fadel 600x400 Copyright ChristopheVorlet

Technologies such as artificial intelligence, robotics, and biotech are redefining what it means to be human—and employable.

Jobs are disappearing as automation replaces the need for people. New occupations are emerging that demand competencies that can transfer across the multiple assignments workers will experience in their lives. The disappearance of global boundaries presents opportunities—and risks—for all workers.

These changes demand a significant, ambitious evolution in how we prepare students for their future in a world that’s increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous. We need a relevant and modernized education.

Commentary Collection

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In this special collection of Commentary essays, professors, advocates, and futurists challenge us all to deeply consider how schooling must change—and change soon—to meet the needs of a future we cannot yet envision.

This special section is supported by a grant from the Noyce Foundation. Education Week retained sole editorial control over the content of this package; the opinions expressed are the authors’ own, however.

Read more from the collection.

Mass schooling may have served us well so far throughout much of modern history, but the 21st century bears little resemblance to the past. Children today must still learn traditional disciplines such as math and language, but these are not enough if they are to succeed in a very different world. So why not also teach entrepreneurship? Social sciences? Technology and engineering? Wellness?

What should we teach young people in an age where search engines have answers for factual and procedural knowledge? When artificial intelligence analyses, synthesizes, and creates? We must begin by pushing a lot harder to reach “transfer"—the ability to use one’s competencies outside an original classroom setting, in the real world, perhaps many years hence. This was always the goal of an education but rarely a deliberate, comprehensive, systematic, and demonstrable focus. In essence, we should be “flipping the curriculum,” inverting our focus from information and knowledge into expertise and transfer (refer to chart below).

flipping the curriculum

Further, we need urgent action on the nonacademic qualities young people need for success. And so, we need to shift from a purely knowledge-based education toward a focus on skills (creativity, critical thinking, communication, and collaboration), character (mindfulness, curiosity, courage, resilience, ethics, leadership), and meta-learning (learning how to learn, growth mindset, metacognition). Schools will need to prepare students to find the intersection between these four dimensions of knowledge, skills, character, and meta-learning.

21st century learner

Such a re-imagining of education will require a profound redesign of curricula where modernizing what students learn is an imperative. Where science, technology, engineering, and math matter more than ever, but humanities and arts remain essential, each discipline borrowing from the other for a deeply versatile education. Where skills, character, and meta-learning are developed deliberately and fully, not haphazardly. Where working with others, at school, in the community, and in the workplace is as vital as ensuring growth at every academic level, allowing top students to thrive while assisting all students in the areas where they are struggling.

Time is running out, but luckily, we know how to redesign curricula. We need only the vision and courage to do so.

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Coverage of science learning and career pathways is supported in part by a grant from The Noyce Foundation, at www.noycefdn.org. Education Week retains sole editorial control over the content of this coverage.
A version of this article appeared in the December 13, 2017 edition of Education Week as How to Modernize Education For the AI Age

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