Posted on May 3, 2022 / From our Principal
What does a future-focused school look like? Part 3 – The Kitbag of Tools for Young People’s Future Success
In Parts 1 and 2 on the topic of schools to educate for our students’ futures, not our own past (8 February and 8 March, accessible here), I explored the current social, educational, and workplace landscapes of our world in Part 1, and what they meant for our young people as they navigate their schooling and plan their post-school future in the world. And in Part 2, I focussed on what the gradual erosion of the ‘knowledge economy’ means for our young people and their future; what are the critical elements of the historic ‘industrialised model’ of education that we absolutely must keep, and what are the shifts required to ensure we prepare our young people optimally for their future lives.
In this final, Part 3, I will look at what are the tools, capabilities, attitudes, and dispositions young people will need to maximise the chance of them finding success in their future. The elements that will make up the ‘capability house’ that I referred to in Part 2.
It can be argued that in the past, you were primarily valued for what was stored in your head; what you knew. While I would counter that value to others has always been about more than simply that, there is no doubt that breadth and depth of knowledge and understanding has always been highly valued, particularly in technical or academic workplaces. People landed roles early in careers because of their Year 12 marks, or their university grades. If this was not the only thing, it was certainly a significant influencer of good outcomes for younger people.
When I listen now to the engineers, the lawyers, the accountants, the business owners, and ironically, even the academics, on our Tintern Grammar Board, it is clear this has shifted, and it has shifted primarily for two reasons. Firstly, knowledge and information are available to anyone who has a phone in their pocket or an iPad in their bag, so these are no longer the privilege and stronghold of the intellectual or well-educated. The second reason follows from this. If anyone can access the knowledge, then it will be the person who understands it clearly and then utilises it most effectively, who will be recognised and affirmed, and who will find success, rather than the person who merely possesses that knowledge.
What are the component parts of this understanding and application excellence? What elements will help our young people find that affirmation and value? The answer to this is that there are multiple capabilities and attitudes, largely co-dependent, and each contributing in more than one way:
- Thinking critically empowers us to consider the value and applicability of knowledge or ideas. It prevents us using inferior quality information, or an inapplicable theorem or method, but more importantly, it ensures that we apply an effective ‘pub test’ filter to anything before we take a first step. Mindful consideration of decisions in context, the forces influencing them and the probable consequences of path A, or path B, are all encompassed in this important capability. The ability to think critically is respected by superiors, colleagues, friends, and life partners, and it is one that both value-adds, and reduces the probability of making career-limiting or ending decisions significantly. Critical thinking can be simultaneously a life turbocharger and a life jacket for life.
- Working collaboratively and highly effectively with others is more than just a good workplace habit resulting in us being viewed as a good colleague. Increasingly workplaces are about teams, based on the proven theory that when we work collaboratively, effectively and with a recognition and understanding of what other people bring to a group, we can truly achieve synergy (an outcome greater than the sum of its parts). This requires emotional intelligence, along with the self-awareness, and the ethical and values-based capabilities I referenced in Part 2.
- The courage and confidence to take measured risks, along with the resilience to bounce back when things do not go as hoped or expected, is a fundamental need in a world that is shifting more often, more dramatically, and with less warning than we have seen historically. As has been visible over the pandemic, we need to be able to make a decision, choose a path, or back ourselves to continue the path we had already set. And we need to have some basis on which to make that decision as well as the confidence to believe in ourselves. None of us will get every decision, plan, or action right every time, so we also need to be able to deal with failure, ensuring it does not crush confidence or the appetite to try again.
- And what do we do when we do not know what to do? This is a situation that generates anxiety in most of us, regardless of age. In the future, our young people are going to need to find solutions to big problems, some known already (and unsolved so far), and some waiting in their future. In many cases there will not be an instruction manual, and it will be our future generations who will need to find a way, as humankind did before we became so focussed on our 20th and 21st century expectation that “someone will tell me the answer”. These challenges will require an amalgam of these other capabilities, as well as strong background knowledge and understanding, and applicable technical skills.
These capabilities (along with others) are then the visible cladding and roofing of this ‘capability house’ that our young people need to develop over their school journey. There is no doubt that the underpinnings of an excellent, future-focussed school will continue to be a crafted, well-taught, and rigorously pursued academic program. But if we focus the intent, strategy, and operations of a school on the true future needs of its students, as opposed to a commitment to a past that may have served us well in its time, the capabilities discussed above, along with the ethics and values base on which to make wise and caring decisions, is what the overall program of a future-focussed school must look like, now and into the future.
factis non verbis