21 Lessons for the 21st Century - and what it means for education.
Mar 28, 2022
Yuval Noah Harari, an Oxford University professor famous for his account of human history in his book 'Sapiens', is also known for another more recent book, '21 lessons for the 21st century'.
As he puts it '21 Lessons is an exploration of what it means to be human in an age of bewilderment'.
He addresses a range of issues that affect us today and into the future, from technological advances, political challenges, justice, the impact of fake news and 'big data', and much more. Of particular interest to me of course, was his thoughts on education.
Harari states that the last thing teachers should be doing is to give students more information, as there is already too much of it in today's world. Instead, we need to be teaching them critical thinking skills, so that they can make sense of the information and discern between reliable and unreliable information. They also need conceptual skills so that they can pull together bits of information and make connections, in order to see the big picture.
He says that we should also be focusing on other 'soft' skills such as communication, collaboration, creativity and problem solving. Moreover, we need to be focusing more on building resilience and coping with change, as we are to see a lot of change in our future. As Harari says "In order to keep up with the world of 2050, you will need not merely to invent new ideas and products - you will above all need to reinvent yourself again and again. For as the pace of change increases, not just the economy, but the very meaning of 'being human' is likely to mutate".
We are likely to be dealing with a vast array of technological advances that will impact what it means to be human, such as super-intelligent machines, bio-engineering, and algorithms that have the ability to influence and manipulate human emotions and decision making.
Harari finishes with this salient point: "As biotechnology and machine learning improve, it will become easier to manipulate people's deepest emotions and desires, and it will become more dangerous than ever to just follow your heart...You will need to work very hard on getting to know your operating system better. To know what you are, and what you want from life".
We are already seeing this to a certain extent today. The documentary 'The Social Dilemma' shows quite clearly the power that social media has on influencing the opinions and decision making of people, with quite dangerous outcomes.
So what does this mean for us as teachers?
First of all, it means that now more than ever, in order to truly thrive in this world today and in the future, we need to develop a deep level of self-awareness - and it's very difficult for us to help our students with this unless we first work on it ourselves. We need to know who we are, what we stand for and what it is that we want to achieve in life. It means becoming super intentional about our thoughts, beliefs and daily actions. It brings to mind a quote by Peter Marshall: "Give to us clear vision that we may know where to stand and what to stand for - because unless we stand for something, we shall fall for anything".
It also means that we need to be integrating self-awareness and growth mindset skills into the curriculum in order to build the necessary levels of resilience. Harari puts it like this:
"To survive and flourish in such a world you will need a lot of mental flexibility and great reserves of emotional balance....you cannot learn resilience by reading a book or listening to a lecture".
To do this, we must be providing opportunities for challenge. Challenges help to stretch our limits, get us out of our comfort zone, overcome limiting beliefs, and break through barriers. It is through these experiences where we learn to dig deep and overcome obstacles. It is where we have to sit with uncomfortable emotions, and not let them defeat us. And when we rise to these challenges and achieve our goals, this is where self-confidence and self-esteem is developed. This is where we learn that we can trust ourselves to do what we say we are going to do, and become more familiar with our own particular strengths and talents.
Helping our students to set their own challenging learning goals is important here. Whilst their goals need to be realistic, they should push them just outside of the comfort zone in order for them to rise to the next level. Throughout this process we need to be coaching them to develop a growth mindset, helping them to reframe their limiting beliefs, and using language that helps them to affirm in themselves that they can achieve what they put their minds to.
Project or problem based learning is also another strategy that can be used to build resilience, as the nature of these projects often involve challenges or obstacles along the way that students have to work to overcome.
And of course, we need to be placing the majority of our focus in class on the development of skills, rather than content knowledge. After all, most of the content knowledge that students are taught today, will be irrelevant in 20 years time or less. Isn't it better to help them gain the skills that they will need to navigate this uncertain future? With the rights skills, they will be able to learn what they need to know, when they need to know it, and they will be able to adapt and change as required.
The integration of 21st century skills is something that we teach in our online professional learning community, Transformational Teachers
. Inside this membership we give you practical strategies that you can use to streamline the content in such a way that you have more time for skills development. If you are interested in learning more about this opportunity, you can go here
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