Redefining Readiness to Put Human Development at the Center
Reconsider our measurements of readiness to prepare students for the future
By Katherine Prince
Work is changing rapidly and in ways that can be hard to comprehend. With the rise of artificial intelligence and smart machines and a decline in full-time employment as the primary structure organizing work, the future of the workforce feels increasingly complex and uncertain. As Jason Swanson chronicles, the new era that these developments signal could lead to new job creation, to high levels of job displacement, or to something else we cannot yet see.
To best prepare our students for such an uncertain future of work, we must reconsider our measurements of readiness. No longer can we rely on test scores and international rankings. Instead, it is crucial that we focus on helping young people develop their uniquely human skills and dispositions and develop deep knowledge of their authentic selves.
Without this focus on the inner human core in the K-12 years, rapid skill development and frequent adaptation will be very difficult for people as they navigate the shifting landscape that is the future of work.
Pushing even further, when many tasks that people currently complete can be automated, leveraging our emotion system to interface with the world and connect deeply with other people will represent the uniquely human capacity that cannot be coded for completion by smart machines.
A new foundation for readiness grounded in strong social-emotional skills will help people find their way through this transition time and acquire the skills and knowledge needed to contribute productively in specific contexts. To take a closer look:
- Deep self-knowledge will help people develop visions for their lives and continue to discover their own personal and professional strengths, weaknesses, passions, and emotional patterns.
- Individual awareness will help people recognize and regulate their emotions; understand the triggers that spark them; and shift to more desired, productive emotional states when needed.
- Social awareness will help people recognize others’ emotions and perspectives, enabling us to build relationships in support of learning, collaboration, and innovation and foster inclusive work environments.
This new foundation for readiness might seem straightforward. At one level, it is. Social-emotional skill development has been receiving increasing attention as an educational priority. But when one really unpacks what this new foundation for readiness could mean for education systems and other learning settings, it has profound implications. Chief among them, education systems will need to establish a new focus on feeling and relating to help young people get ready for future work environments. We need, essentially, to redefine readiness at both the K-12 and postsecondary levels.
Here are seven ways to start preparing students for the future:
- Teach and integrate skills-based social-emotional curricula: Just as educators scaffold numeracy and literacy across grades, they can guide the development of emotion-based skills and practices over time. In addition, more states can incorporate social-emotional intelligence into educational standards.
- Nurture aspirational visions: The K-12 years should strongly support self-discovery and experiences that inspire learning. This kind of organic discovery can be encouraged through exposure to big ideas, awe-inspiring questions, and new experiences that help students find purpose, engage in collaboration, and make connections to the broader world around them.
- Bring ambiguity and uncertainty into the classroom. Looking for ways to bring passion-driven, open-ended projects; peer-based collaboration; and play-centered experimentation and creation into learning environments can help students experience uncertainty, ambiguity, risk, and failure in productive ways.
- Encourage and support cognitive diversity and flexible thinking. Learning environments need to be psychologically and socially safe, stress-free, and physically supportive. In addition, students need to develop comfort in using thinking frameworks from diverse disciplines to stimulate ideas and identify novel approaches to problems. They also need down-time to relax, daydream, and explore ideas.
- Use technology to augment human capabilities. When designing curricula and learning activities, educators can use technology to stretch the boundaries of thinking and to push higher-order analysis, synthesis, and creative and generative thinking. Technology should serve not as an endpoint but as means to facilitating deeper thinking.
- Renegotiate definitions and markers of success. Traditional notions of school success are rooted in an achievement model that includes demonstrations of mastery of discrete bundles of skills and knowledge. To help align definitions and markers of success with the new employment climate, educators can consider shifting achievement metrics and assessments toward a learning model that addresses dynamic, emergent, and continuous learning along with social-emotional development.
- Seek to cultivate deep partnerships with afterschool, summer, and out-of-school-time learning providers. These programs offer vital support for many learners, helping them develop and practice skills, complete homework, try out new activities, and explore their interests in safe settings. By changing approaches to factors such as time, structures, and graduation requirements and by addressing logistical issues such as liability insurance and transportation, K-12 educators can extend the range of experiences available to help students prepare for further learning, career and life.
The future world of work can feel overwhelming and uncertain. But educators can take steps today to help young people develop the foundation that they will need to navigate complexity and find their individual niches in new employment landscapes.