What Kids Need to Learn to Succeed in 2050

Israeli author, public intellectual, and history professor Yuval Noah Harari’s essay, “What Kids Need to Learn to Succeed in 2050” is one of the first I’ve seen that mentions the 22nd century. He speculates on what the world will be like 27 years from now (2050) and 77 years from now (2100). I might make it to 2050 and will not make it to 2100, unless science finds a way to prolong the human life span. Most of our current students and those born today will be alive in 2100 and the article is great for educators to reflect on what skills, attitudes, and facts we are teaching to young people today that will be useful to them when they are our age. Harari is a bit pessimistic that older adults (school leaders) can do this.

The best advice I can give a 15-year-old is: don’t rely on the adults too much. Most of them mean well, but they just don’t understand the world.

Harari, September 13, 2018 Forge Medium.com

He argues that with the extremely fast rate of technological and cultural change schools need to radically reform how they prepare young people. The role of schools was the “3 Rs” (Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic). Harari refers to pedagogical experts that think we should change to the “4 Cs” (Critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity) because…(quote below)

More broadly, they believe, schools should downplay technical skills and emphasize general-purpose life skills. Most important of all will be the ability to deal with change, learn new things, and preserve your mental balance in unfamiliar situations. To keep up with the world of 2050, you will need to do more than merely invent new ideas and products, but above all, reinvent yourself again and again

I would push back a little bit regarding teaching information and technical skills. The argument is with the world’s information available at your fingertips through your phone, why memorize any history or facts. I think there should be some of that in schools to give students a mental framework to make sense of the world. I agree that the 4Cs will bring more success to a student than the 3Rs, but going too far is not good for them.

I’ve been thinking about my Russian language learning. I am trying to find time to improve my Russian language, but with Google Translate improving daily, one can easily get around and I wonder what the equivalent of Google Translate will be 27 years from now. AI is just starting to transform how we work.

His take on technology is provocative. I’ve seen his example of technology enslaving people in the past with the advent of agriculture. People before agriculture would hunt and gather, live in smaller groups and most importantly for Harari’s argument, have more free time. Agriculture caused them to devote more time to producing food.

So on what can you rely instead? Perhaps on technology? That’s an even riskier gamble. Technology can help you a lot, but if technology gains too much power over your life, you might become a hostage to its agenda. Thousands of years ago humans invented agriculture, but this technology enriched just a tiny elite while enslaving the majority of humans. Most people found themselves working from sunrise till sunset plucking weeds, carrying water buckets, and harvesting corn under a blazing sun. It could happen to you too.

I agree with him in that I hate seeing “zombies” staring at their screens constantly instead of the world around them.

He ends the essay with a call to “know thyself”, the adage from Socrates. Students are bombarded with ideas, marketing, etc. through ubiquitous access to the internet. It is easy to get caught up with what the algorithms are telling you. Harari’s main message is that schools need to help students find their identity through what makes us human. Our relationships with others and our own senses interpret the world around us.

In my opinion, today’s students are looking for mentors. Adults can help guide them through the intricacies of digital information overload. I disagree with Harari’s assertion that young people can’t rely on older people, including teachers and school leaders.

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