On 19 January, we had the pleasure of hosting Charles Fadel at the IB Global Centre in The Hague. Charles, a well-known global education thought leader, is also an author and inventor, and the founder and chairman of the Center for Curriculum Redesign. He visited the IB following the launch of his new book, Four-Dimensional Education, at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in Paris.
Charles discussed how to prepare students for a 21st–century life that is volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA). Education globally needs to reassess what is relevant for students in a VUCA-world. But to do so, we have to make some hard choices—among them: which components of the current curriculum should we remove?
As technological development accelerates, and computers take over some of the tasks that humans used to perform, many traditional skills and jobs become redundant. For example, a staggering 42 percent of Wikipedia is edited by bots (internet robots) instead of humans. The introduction of autonomous vehicles will lead to fewer drivers (and, hopefully, fewer accidents!); automatic meeting scheduling means fewer jobs in administration; simultaneous translation, while minimizing language barriers, means fewer translators, and so on.
But the disappearance of some traditional jobs coincides with a need for new skills and the creation of new jobs. To name just a few, there will be new work in gene sequencing and editing, proteomics, synthetic biology, cloning, Cyberpsychology and the design and monitoring of augmented reality and its “amoral amplification”…
Whole new fields of experience are opening up, and these will deeply influence education and work. With new technology, we can step into a virtual life and take on the characteristics we chose, and complement our existing reality with information that gives us a fuller picture of whatever we’re doing: instantly seeing how our students are reacting to our teaching methods, say, or learning what our lunch contains on a molecular level.
At the same time, computers have become ‘smarter’ and more accurate, so that, in some areas, they have become more efficient than humans. If you can make yourself understood in a foreign language in real time via an electronic device, why spend many months learning the language? At the purely practical level of making oneself understood, that isn’t the best investment of your time…
However, languages—just as many other subjects—are not only taught for practical reasons, but also for cognitive reasons. Learning a language stretches our minds, and enables us to immerse ourselves in another culture through meaningful interactions with other people. The accuracy of information that we find in robotics, artificial intelligence and virtual realities doesn’t take away the fact that we also need meaningful human interaction. Seeing a hologram ‘popstar’ perform a song on stage with no human back-up doesn’t appeal to us as much as seeing the actual human drummer next to it. Musicians, designers, choreographers, translators – teachers! – all are still needed. But what they design, play, and teach must be relevant to the world they exist in.
In designing a 21st-century education that prepares students for success in this rapidly changing world, we have to address the fact that students need to be educated today for jobs that may only begin to exist tomorrow. Both teachers and learners can use new technologies to enhance education and adapt it to the VUCA-world. Rather than seeing technology and education as a being in a race against each other, with educational developments lagging behind technology’s quantum leaps, the IB and other educational bodies must lead the way in showing how the two can be integrated.
This is especially so given that technological advances are taken up at wildly different rates across the world—within countries, socio-economic groups, and communities—even families. As Charles Fadel concluded his very interesting session, quoting the Sci-Fi writer William Ford Gibson: “The future is already here. It’s just not very evenly distributed.”
One over-riding goal for education is to ensure that its timeless aspects remain effective and relevant as technological innovations make our lives ever less predictable—that’s the only way, says Charles Fadel, to make Four-Dimensional education real.