The world is in need of a new generation of heroes. It is becoming abundantly clear that Generation Z – the generation that succeeds millennials – is socially engaged and concerned about the condition of the world to a remarkable degree. However, the passion and idealism of this rising generation is one of the most underutilized resources for good on the planet.
The reason for this is simple. There is a gap between what most educational institutions provide and what young people really need to know to thrive and to become socially active in the 21st Century. This gap is poignantly summarized by Gabe, a 12 year-old New Yorker, who told me recently, “I know I’m going to leave a legacy, I know I’m going to leave my mark, I just need someone to show me how.”
What will it take for young people to thrive in what some have called the “Age of Innovation?” I believe that the key to a fulfilling personal and professional life depends on cultivating such capacities as the creativity to generate new ideas; develop them through a multitude of skillsets; and harvest them through entrepreneurship.
The sad fact is that no education system today has a practical, relevant approach to cultivating such capacities in young people. Education still remains for the most part rooted in an industrial operating model of fixed schedules, batch processing, metrics, standardization and objective measurement. It is optimized to serve the purposes of a society keen to process and evaluate young people so they can be streamed into appropriate channels for further education or employment. The result? High drop-out rates, lack of engagement, low levels of employment readiness.
But we no longer live exclusively in the industrial age. Efficiency and standardization must coexist with an ability to develop new ideas and deploy their fruits to transform existing business and social models. Such capacities are largely developed through practice, not scholastic effort. An analogy comes from music. You don’t learn to play the piano by attending lectures and reading textbooks; the only way to acquire this ability is to sit down at the piano and practice, over and over again.
Education can also come alive when it harnesses the power of purpose. The challenges that face global civil society can provide a compelling rationale for learning. By suffusing a learning experience with societal challenges and so-called “wicked problems,” education can provide an important “why” for learning. This creates an important opportunity for problem owners of all kinds as well as corporate social responsibility stakeholders to become involved in the education process.
In short, the coming revolution in education will be a blend of relevance, integrated knowledge, practice and purpose.
Enter EdgeMakers. This is a learning system designed to empower young people worldwide to become highly skillful innovators who can make a difference ahead of schedule. By innovation I refer to the ability to generate ideas (creativity), develop them (design, story, collaboration) and realize value from them (entrepreneurship).
The EdgeMakers approach also acknowledges that any learning experience for young people must acknowledge their increasing appetite for digital experiences. Going to school will feel like a demotion if it requires cutting off the kind of connection, search, play and experience that any young person can have with a smart phone at any time. For the most part, education still has not reconciled itself to the digitization of everything. This challenge is compounded by the fact that teachers will need to become students in order to achieve digitally literacy at a level already reached by many of their students.
EdgeMakers also acknowledges another fundamental trend in education – the turning inside out of the learning process. To acknowledge the success of such self-directed learning approaches as Khan Academy, MOOC’s and online micro-certificate programs is to appreciate that institutional education and learning are increasingly differentiable. An additional consequence is the breakdown of traditional linear models of education into the possibility of myriad, personalized pathways.
Like it or not, education must transform as digital technology and the desires of a rising generation increasingly free learning from traditional schoolhouse models. There is simply no alternative. Education today is a service industry whose “customers” are increasingly dissatisfied because they are not getting either what they want or need.
In a sense, there is now an “invalid social contract” between doing well in the traditional education system and the expectation of finding stimulating employment, personal fulfillment, or entrepreneurial accomplishment. There are few societal agendas more important than redesigning education and thus bridging the gap between what young people get in school and what they need to thrive in the world as it really exists. EdgeMakers is one contribution in that direction.
John Kao was named “Mr. Creativity” by The Economist. A former Harvard Business School professor, he has spent the past 30 years as an innovation advisor, educator and activist. He is founder and CEO of EdgeMakers, an initiative to empower young people worldwide to become highly skillful innovators so they can make a difference ahead of schedule. www.edgemakers.com www.johnkao.com