Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Educating for the future – according to the experts.

Alvin Toffler

A very interesting article was published in the supplement of La Nación newspaper of 1 February in which Alvin Toffler, futurologist and expert in social and cultural trends, talked about the world which is coming. The author of Future Shock and the Third Wave, among other books, spoke about the underground tendencies that give direction to mankind and its future on this planet. He explained that we are in the middle of a shift on Earth from societies which evolved as a result of the Industrial Revolution, societies based on the production line, on the mass migration to big urban centres, to the rise of corporations and to the prevalence of bureaucracy. The change is towards a post-industrial model of society, which he calls “The Third Wave” and which he insists will not emerge in a linear or systematic fashion. Moreover, the fact that some present societies are still adjusting from the agrarian societies of the First Wave to the industrial ones means that having then to suddenly incorporate concepts from the new model will make the transition less than easy.

Throughout the article Toffler emphasises the role of education in society and says that countries will have to reform their education systems to prepare students for the changes in work and society that have already arrived and will be occuring with increasing speed. He says that the educational models in the world have been those which gave students the tools to work in factory-like conditions and were based on the assembly line technique. He states that this model is no longer applicable either to the sorts of work and roles humans will fulfil in the future or to the needs and interests of children whose access to the world has been exponentially widened with the advent of the Internet. Schools, he feels, will have to blend what students need to learn in school (such as basic tools for learning) with what they can pick up online. The focus will be on developing skills and abilities which will be at the forefront of demand from future employers. Among these skills are the ability to assimmilate information, adaptability to change and the skill of taking quick decisions.

He envisages schools that stay will open 24 hours a day and have curricula that span across different disciplines and meet both the needs of each student and the businesses or employers who will hire them once they finish their schooling. He says that not only teachers will teach the students but also there will be much more interaction with experts in different fields who will come into school and show the students what they do and how they work in their field.

Has this new system of schooling been introduced anywhere? Toffler says with some evident regret that it has not been adopted by any country. He says many of the developing countries are either too busy integrating into the industrialised world or have not come to grips with the new realities in the world. He also suggests that teachers’ organisations are resistant to many such changes for fear of losing their jobs. Meanwhile, the changes are accelerating and students are finding that more and more of the skills they need are currently to be found outside the educational system.

Toffler interview:


Howard Gardner’s latest book is on the “Five Minds of the Future”. In it he decribes the five cognitive skills that will be in greatest demand in coming years.
The first is the disciplined mind which needs to be learnt in school as you master the different academic disciplines. Then there is the synthesising mind which sorts out what is important from the information in a particular area, makes sense of it and can convey it to others. Third is the creative mind which helps us to innovate and make meaningful change.
The two other minds that will need nurturing in school are the respectful mind, which Gardner stresses goes beyond simply tolerating the other to cultivating respect, emotional and interpersonal intelligence to help us live in societies which contain a diversity of perspective and the ethical mind. This fifth mind is a more abstract and reflective mind which allows us to take a step back and assess our behavious in the light of our ethics and responsibilities.

More on Gardner’s latest work can be found at the following sites:

RSA lecture on the subject

Radio interview on subject


Howard Gardner (2007). Five minds for the future. Harvard Business School Press: Cambridge, MA.

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