On one of my first days as a teacher, one of my mentors told me something that impacts my philosophy of education and the way that I approach every classroom of students: “Today, we are preparing students for jobs that don’t even exist yet.”
When I first heard this, I had to think about it. How could that possibly be true? What happened to students’ wanting to be lawyers and doctors and baseball players? Shouldn’t I be preparing students for today’s jobs? But the more that I thought about it, the more that I realized he was right.
The world changes – quickly.
I didn’t even know what the internet was until I was in 10th grade, and today’s youth won’t know a world without it. There are now entire fields that didn’t even exist when I took my first “what should I do when I grow up?” quiz. And the situation has changed exponentially since then.
How, then, can any educator (or parent) hope to prepare students for the future?
The answer is to not focus on mastering material and facts; the answer is to focus on building skills. According to The Center for 21st Century Skills, there are six skills that are essential for the future:
- Information Literacy: the ability to find useful and reliable information
- Collaboration: working together to share, advocate, and compromise on issues critical to team success
- Communication: the ability to properly read, write, present, and comprehend ideas
- Creativity and Innovation: Exploration and imagination
- Problem Solving: Experimentation of new and familiar concepts while processing information until a viable solution is reached
- Responsible Citizenship: demonstration of proper technology use, global awareness, and moral capacity
For older students, studies show the best way to master these skills are through project-based learning, discovery learning, and interdisciplinary learning. In early childhood, the answer is play-based learning.
In these modalities, students are allowed to drive their own learning, inspired by their interests, encountering real-life problems and being forced to find realistic solutions.
A toddler in a play-based learning environment is able to practice his community skills through interacting with his peers while also improving his collaboration skills while navigating the world of sharing toys. A three year old continues to develop her skills as a responsible citizen through respectfully playing with the items she finds in the classroom, making sure to clean up after herself, and hugging a friend when she is sad. A four-year-old playing in the block area is allowed to implement his imagination to create his own world while also using his problem solving skills to make sure his towers withstand the outside forces. A pre-k student who is allowed to ask her own questions will begin to develop information literacy while she seeks the answers.
We as parents have the opportunity and challenge of raising our kids during a time of rapid change, and we have an obligation to prepare them as best as we can. By fostering these skills during the early childhood stage, students will be better prepared to continue honing these skills as they grow, gradually preparing them for those jobs that have yet to be created. Through acquiring these skills today, our kids will be more adept at obtaining the specific knowledge and skills they will need for elementary, middle, and high school as well as their future professions, better equipping them to make a difference in tomorrow’s world.
This article first ran in the Hebrew Educational Alliance Preschool newsletter.
Dr. Sarah Levy has a Masters in Jewish Education and a doctorate in Education with certificates in Advanced Jewish Learning, Day School Education, and Jewish Educational Leadership. She has worked in field of Jewish education for 15 years with students of all ages and is a mother to four of her own children. She currently works with the Colorado Agency for Jewish Education and acts as a consultant for educational institutions locally, nationally, and internationally.