My children just joined kindergarten. They belong to the class of 2034, and their generation is expected to live well past 2100. In such a fast-paced world, what knowledge and skills they will need in 2040 and beyond are anybody's guess. So, what kind of education should we look for?
In the past, when thinking about education, many parents' main concern was financial security for their kids. So, they pushed their children to do well in school and get a "respectable" degree in a good university in engineering, law, and the like that will guarantee them a good job somewhere. Good grades and a solid education were the best predictors of financial security.
In 2034, a degree will unlikely provide anyone with financial security. In the next few years, many well-paid white-collar jobs will be replaced by artificial intelligence, and many blue-collar jobs will be replaced by automation. Which ones? hard to say. Besides that, it is unlikely that focusing on financial security will allow anyone to reach their full human potential.
Which makes me think... What is the role of education, and what should we be teaching people in the workforce in the next 20-30 years? What do they need to learn today to have the life they want?
The first question to be answered is what we want to get out of life so we can decide what we need to learn to get there. Financial security is essential, but it is an incomplete answer to a purposeful, meaningful, and happy life.
Professor Martin Seligman, the founder of positive psychology, used to make the following provocation. He would go to a whiteboard and draw two columns. First, he would ask: "What do you wish in life?" and take notes on the left column. The answers usually revolved around Happiness, Health, Meaningful life, relationships, purposeful work, etc. Then he would go to the right column and ask: "What did you learn in school and college?" and the answers were "math, languages, sciences, history, arts, etc.". Then he would say: "Do you see something strange? Isn't it curious that we are not teaching people what they need to have the life they want?"
By now, we know a good life involves great relationships, fulfilling work, spirituality, mental and physical health, and, yes, financial security (which doesn't guarantee happiness but can bring much unhappiness). However, the educational system and parents are generally biased towards fulfilling work and financial security at the expense of other (even more critical) components. Happiness and fulfillment come from balancing cognitive, social, and emotional abilities, but unfortunately, we tend to give much more importance to cognitive skills. There has been significant progress in the science of living fulfilling lives, but unfortunately, this knowledge is still sitting in psychology departments or MBA elective classes.
Education, be it at school, college, or work, should prepare us to be whole, fulfilled beings. It should help us discover our place in the world, superpowers, and passions. It is time we train people, especially our youth, for more than work. We need to prepare them for Life.