One of the most significant statements I took away from the 21st Century Skills Conference last week was Ewan McIntosh’s: “People are great problem solvers, what we need are problem finders.”
In education, we are constantly struggling to keep up. I once heard Ian Jukes say that our technologies are obsolete before we leave the checkout line; the same is true of education. By the time we have an appropriate number of the latest and greatest technologies, those very technologies are outdated. Let’s be honest, by the time we figure out how to use those same technologies in a meaningful way, they are being removed and replaced by the next generation. We are always several steps (generations) behind in education.
When we look at the overall direction of both education and society, though, instead of being creative and innovative in thinking forward, we are quick to focus on all the current problems we face. Teacher quality, funding, administration, assessments, parent involvement (or lack thereof), college and career readiness, test scores, etc. etc. etc. As human beings, we are quick to focus on problems: personal budgets, job woes, rising costs, unhappiness in our professions, unhappiness in our personal relationships, etc. etc. etc. We work to solve the problems that exist in front of us, the obvious issues. If I can’t afford my bills this month, I work to solve that problem. If our students aren’t achieving in a designated area, we work to solve that problem. We are always a step behind the problems, and the problems, consequently, direct our paths.
What I took away from Ewan’s keynote speech was the idea that we need to teach our students how to find new problems, to solve the issues that aren’t obvious and direct. By teaching the future generations to use their foundational content knowledge and critical thinking/creative thinking skills to dream up and solve new problems, we are teaching them to stay ahead of the pack. We need proactive rather than reactive members of society–people who can solve diseases before they are diagnosed, people who can fix environmental concerns before we know they are concerns, people who can propel humanity into a new existence before we realize our current existence is destroying itself. We need to educate people to dream big.
As educators, we need to teach our students how to operate in a society we can’t define for them, where they will be faced with issues we can’t foresee and problems we won’t begin to comprehend. The best skills we can teach them are the skills that allow them to be ready for this new world.