Why do we send our children to school? That might seem like a silly question, but it’s a worthwhile one to ask.
At its heart, the answer to that question is: To prepare them for a happy and successful life. We send our children to school so that they will have the information, knowledge, and skills necessary to have fulfilling relationships, to understand the world around them, to be engaged citizens and effective leaders, and to work in jobs that will support all of these goals.
That last point—career readiness—has traditionally received a lot of attention in any discussion about education. And it makes sense as to why: Educational success is correlated with greater career stability and success (as measured by lower unemployment numbers and higher median pay).
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But the advent of new technologies has already dramatically reshaped what we mean when we talk about “work,” “careers,” and “jobs.” Jobs exist today that could never have been fathomed 20 years ago; and it’s a guarantee that jobs will exist 20 years from now that we can’t even fathom today. In fact, according to a report from Dell Technologies, a whopping 85% of the jobs that will exist in the year 2030 haven’t even been invented yet.
So how can parents prepare their children for the jobs of the future when we don’t know what they will look like?
Though we don’t know exactly what the specifics of these future jobs will entail, we do know that many new and emerging careers (as mentioned earlier by Dell) are going to be technical in nature. Many of them are going to be focused—in one way or another—on technology: Using it, working with it, creating it, fixing it.
Knowing this, parents and educators can (and should) begin preparing today’s students for these jobs of tomorrow. And the earlier we start, the better. Starting as early as elementary and middle school allows parents and teachers to lay the groundwork that will be built upon in high school and college. This will help students become and stay competitive in the workforce while preparing them to work with technology.
What does this groundwork look like? In order for students to be competitive in the future, they will need a mix of two things: Technical Literacy and Human Literacy.
21st Century Skills: Embracing Technical Literacy
Technical literacy refers to the technology skills that students will need in order to work in the highly technical fields that already exist, and which will continue to emerge as time goes on and technology becomes more and more sophisticated.
The most important of these technical skills include: Mathematical skills, coding skills, and engineering skills.
1. Mathematical Skills
Mathematics have always been important as a matter of course, used in everything from daily life to highly-specialized fields like the sciences and engineering. But the phrase “mathematical skills” doesn’t just refer to numbers work: As an umbrella term, it also refers to analytical and logical thinking skills that are becoming more and more important in so many industries thanks to the advent of “Big Data.”
Thanks to the ever-increasing number of technologies that we interact with on a daily basis, as a society we are generating nearly unfathomable amounts of data each and every day. Exactly how much data? By some estimates, we’re creating 2.5 quintillion bytes of data each and every day. That’s 2.5 followed by 17 zeros.
A deep understanding of math, statistics, and analytics is only going to grow more and more important as more industries and companies attempt to collect, understand, interpret, and work with all of the data that we generate.
2. Coding Skills
Twenty years ago, the only people who needed to know how to code were people who specifically wanted to work with computers. In order to design and create computer programs and websites, you needed to be able to code; outside of those fields, it was possible to go your entire career never needing any knowledge of coding.
As technology has infiltrated more and more of our daily lives, coding has gone from a specialized skill only needed by those working in highly technical fields to a skill needed—in one capacity or another—by many more people.
Coding skills are of course still required for anyone who wants to build computers or mobile programs and applications. The ability to interact with and adjust code has become an increasingly important skill for workers in all fields, from marketers, to publishers, to even mechanics.
3. Engineering Skills
Just as the coding skills discussed above become more important to a greater number of workers, so, too, have a variety of engineering skills. Coding skills allow an individual to interact with technology and make it perform the tasks you want it to, but engineering skills are what allows an individual to create the technology in the first place. In order to actually build, troubleshoot, upkeep, and fix the various technologies that society relies on, tomorrow’s workers will need a clear grasp of engineering.
But engineering skills don’t stop at robotics and technology. From chemical engineering to mechanical engineering to civil engineering, learning these skills will allow our children to understand and solve the complex problems that our society faces.
What Parents Can Do
If you want your child to learn the technical skills that they will need to thrive in the careers of the future, it’s important to start laying the groundwork as early as possible. Getting your child comfortable with math, engineering, and the basics of coding from a young age will only make it that much easier for them to build upon their skills as they progress through school and into their careers.
Enrolling your child in a school that prioritizes STEM-based education and which emphasizes project-based learning is one way to ensure that they receive an education that teaches and reinforces these skills on a daily basis.
A Case for the Humanities: Human Literacy
While technical literacy will of course be important as we become more and more dependent on new technologies, it would be a mistake for parents and schools to prioritize STEM at the expense of subjects like the humanities.
Why is this?
Technology—whether a computer program, mobile app, artificial intelligence, machine learning, blockchain, or anything else—is a tool. It is something that human beings create and use in order to accomplish a goal or solve a problem. But understanding a problem or goal requires a certain level of context, a certain understanding of humanity and the world we live in which machines simply don’t have.
The single best way for parents to robot-proof their children is to encourage them to embrace the skills and qualities which make them human: Creativity, critical thinking, and compassion. Studying the humanities—subjects like literature, history, the social sciences, and the arts—allows children to do just that, while simultaneously giving them a wide variety of information that they will need to effectively use technology.
A Story of And
Preparing children for the work of tomorrow is not a story of choosing either STEM or the humanities. In order to be truly effective, parents must facilitate an education that prioritizes both. They must teach their children the technical literacy that will be needed to work with technology, while also teaching them the human literacy that will be needed to put that technology to its best use.