Raise your hand if you learned about mitosis in school?
Now, leave your hand up if you still know what mitosis actually is?
Finally, keep your hand raised if you’ve used your knowledge of mitosis at your job in the last few years?
My guess is that not many of you reading this would still have your hand in the air.
And this demonstration is how Harvard Professor David Perkins gets his audiences to see the pressing need for curriculum reform.
He acknowledges that mastering content is important, but in the digital age in which we live, educators must re-assess what content they teach remains relevant to students’ futures.
“Conventional curriculum is chained to the bicycle rack,” he says. “It sits solidly in the minds of parents: ‘I learned that. Why aren’t my children learning it?’ The enormous investment in textbooks and the cost of revising them gives familiar elements of the curriculum a longer life span than they might perhaps deserve. Curriculum suffers from something of a crowded garage effect: It generally seems safer and easier to keep the old bicycle around than to throw it out.”
While teachers may feel more comfortable keeping their lessons as is, students are rightfully frustrated.
In a recent op-ed published in the New York Times, the Learning Network surveyed students to find out their opinions about school.
One of their major concerns? That school doesn’t prepare them for real life.
One student said,
“It feels like once we’ve graduated high school, we’ll be sent out into the world clueless and unprepared. I know many college students who have no idea what they’re doing, as though they left home to become an adult but don’t actually know how to be one.”
And still another commented,
“Students get into the habit of preparing exclusively for the homework, further separating the main ideas of school from the real world. At this point, homework is given out to prepare the students for … more homework, rather than helping students apply their knowledge to the real world.”
This was definitely one of my biggest complaints when I was a high school teacher — there is a clear disconnect between mandated curriculum and what students need to be successful adults in the real world.
School is great at helping kids memorize content so they can prove their knowledge on tests, but that’s not how the real world works. So why are we using school are an opportunity to develop the skills that employers are desperately seeking?
When I switched careers and became a business management consultant, I experienced this lack of preparation. I have had to learn a lot of new skills to adapt to my new line of work, but I’ve seen these skills apply across many clients in many different industries.
And yet, despite the prevalence of these skills, schools aren’t teaching them to students.
So here are five skills I see being widely-used, but that schools aren’t teaching:
1. Project Management
Almost all work these days revolves around long-term projects that are broken down into tasks and require collaboration among teams. It’s critical that students graduate knowing how to manage and coordinate their work, whether as a freelancer or as part of team.
Skills: time-management, digital collaboration, road mapping, communication, status reporting
Tools: Trello, Excel, Gantt Charts, any productivity app
2. Agile and Innovative Mindset
There’s no denying that the speed of change is accelerating. Businesses have to keep up by adapting and evolving as quickly as technology changes. For this reason, everyone is in a constant state of inventing the next big thing. Businesses need creative risk-takers who aren’t afraid to fail in developing the next big idea.
Skills: creativity, growth mindset, problem-solving, experimentation, questioning, giving and receiving feedback
Tools: Design Thinking, improvisation techniques, agile methodology, any writing, drawing or photo/video editing tool, social media apps
3. Product Development
Every day, new start-up companies emerge and increase competition in the business landscape. So every company is forced to compete and stay relevant by developing new and enticing products. But this a complex process that is both art and science.
Skills: Design Thinking, computer coding languages, human-centered design
Tools: market research, Jira, Kanban, A/B testing, journey maps, user personas
4. Data Literacy
Technology isn’t only increasing the rate of change in society, it’s also enabling the collection of more and more data. In fact, this rate is compounding and many businesses are now looking to take advantage of this data. The problem, however, is that their workforce doesn’t know how to capture and draw insights from all this information.
Skills: analytics, reporting, creating dashboards, statistics, algorithms, search engine optimization
Tools: Excel, Tableau, Salesforce, any survey tool
5. Digital Communication and Collaboration
Businesses are either stuck in their old ways of working — sitting through endless hours of in-person meetings — or they are adapting to the modern work-from-home way of life. Either way, the former will eventually become the latter as more and more people enjoy flexibility as part of their jobs. This means that being able to communicate and collaborate digitally will become more and more important.
Skills: assigning tasks and to-do lists, instant messaging, video conferencing
Tools: email, Google Apps, Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Slack, Skype, social media apps
Many of these subjects overlap and support one another, but they all underpin the knowledge and skills that employers are seeking in their workforce.
It’s time for schools to modernize and evolve their curriculum to prepare students for this same reality. We can’t predict what the jobs of the future will look like, but we know one thing is for certain: change is inevitable. So let’s stop teaching the same content that prepared students for jobs a century ago.
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