The essential skill set for tomorrow

Helping our children thrive in a rapidly changing world
geralt, Pixabay.com, CC0 1.0
geralt, Pixabay.com, CC0 1.0

We live in an unpredictable and rapidly changing world. This has always been true, but it has become even more so in recent decades, as we encounter social, economic and geopolitical changes as well as technological advances. These changes have influenced the way we communicate, socialize and acquire knowledge, and how we experience and understand the world and the people around us. They have also profoundly changed the requirements of the job market and the work environment.

There is no doubt that in many ways, our lives have changed for the better. Think of a modern learner, who now has unlimited and even free access to a world of high-quality academic knowledge literally at her fingertips, no matter her location or socio-economic status. Or think of a young academic or skilled worker who can travel abroad fairly easily, thanks to growing cooperation between countries, and potentially benefit from academic advancement or more favorable career opportunities. Yet these advances also pose new challenges.

“In a rapidly evolving world, what skills should we teach our learners? Will a skill taught today still be relevant tomorrow?”

In a rapidly evolving world, what skills should we teach our learners? Will a skill taught today still be relevant tomorrow? And how can we deal with an environment that is becoming more culturally and ethnically diverse? How can we cope with an almost endless stream of information from a multitude of media outlets? These are just a few examples of what the children of today will have to face tomorrow.

In this ever-changing world, educational systems need to focus not on domain-specific skills, but rather on fundamental, broad-based skills that will help learners navigate successfully in a dynamic and even chaotic environment.

What are these skills? Here are some examples:

  1. In an environment in which we are inundated with information, one of the most precious resources is our attention. Therefore, helping 21st-century learners develop the ability to regulate and manage their attention is one of the most important things we can do.
  1. Constant change leads to uncertainty and a sense of lacking control. Psychologically and physiologically, uncertainty and low control are highly stressful states. Therefore, developing stress management skills is crucial if today’s learners are to become resilient individuals who are capable of recognizing and managing stress in constructive ways.
  1. With the job world becoming more and more sophisticated, project-oriented and teamwork-dependent, but also more diverse, future success in both professional and personal life is increasingly dependent on social-emotional skills. Therefore, their value for learners is indisputable.

But the core question is this: Is it possible to teach these skills? Fortunately, there is growing evidence from scientific research in psychology, education and neuroscience that all of these skills can indeed be taught and learned – through such methods as mental training, various forms of physical activity, explicit learning of social-emotional skills and ideally some combination of all of the above.

If learners become proficient in these skills, they will not only be capable of meeting the demands of a 21st century world, they will also have the tools they need to achieve fulfillment and gain a sense of meaning in their lives.

“Educational systems need to focus not on domain-specific skills, but rather on fundamental, broad-based skills that will help learners navigate successfully in a dynamic and even chaotic environment.”

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