Today’s pop quiz: How many planets in the solar system? Is it eight or nine? Is Pluto in or out?
Or how many elements are there on a periodic table?
Those used to be simple questions. Any student could answer them in a flash. But it’s not that easy anymore. Things change, sometimes every day.
That’s one of the points educator Tony Wagner uses to illustrate how our world is different today and why the Internet will always know more than we do and be faster to retrieve answers to our questions. If you don’t believe that, start listing the 50 state capitals in the U.S. while I Google the question.
Wagner, a Harvard University education specialist and author of the book Creating Innovators is shaking up the education world these days as he tries to figure out how to make students better prepared to live in today’s world.
He makes the case that technology has made information a free commodity and that it no longer is an advantage to know more than the next person. It’s what you can do with that knowledge that is today’s valued trait.
He thinks our education system spends too much time trying to load individuals with information, but rarely tells them how to use that information. And, that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t believe in teaching information to students but that our obligation doesn’t end there.
“Young people who can innovate are going to have a rich and satisfying life and an interesting and rewarding career,” Wagner says. “Young people who cannot innovate may be desperately seeking jobs for much of their lives.”
Unlike narrow-minded business interests that want students to learn basic technical skills, Wagner is seeking development of a much broader and resilient individual. He’s identified what he calls “7 Survival Skills for Careers, College and Citizenship” that bear consideration by every student, educator and business executive:
Everyone needs to know how to think critically and know how to solve problems.
- • Collaboration with others and leading through influence are essential.
- • Agility and adaptability are essential skills.
- • Everyone must take the initiative and know how to think like entrepreneurs.
- • Everyone must possess effective oral and written communication skills.
- • Everyone must know how to access and analyze the information they research.
- • Curiosity and imagination must be fostered at all times.
While each of his so-called survival skills deserve book chapters of their own, the importance of Wagner’s model is that he is asking us to consider them in the basic context of education. He wants to encourage an educational system that will push students to their max.
Right now, our education system rewards the student that sets five goals and reaches five goals. Wagner thinks it’s more important to reward the student who sets 10 goals and attains seven or eight of them.
Without a doubt Wagner is stirring debate in education and work circles with his ideas, but it’s hard to argue with his basic premise.
“The only information that is really retained and the only information that really matters is what you can do with it,” he says.