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Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Story of a Monkey and the Work Force We Need 06-20


The Story of a Monkey and the Work Force We Need



A number of years ago, when living in Ukraine, I decided to send my older daughter to a local kindergarten for a few weeks of summer school. I wanted her to become immersed in the local language and culture and to discover the hard yet rewarding work of learning to understand, adapt and connect.
That learning happened, with its ups and downs. When it came to downs, there was the monkey. Every day, my daughter would bring home a picture she'd been given to color. And every day, it was the same picture to fill in with crayon: the outline of a monkey. It never changed. Monday — monkey. Tuesday — monkey. And so on.
That was lesson for me. Because this story comes to mind whenever I think about how we prepare — and don't prepare — our kids for tomorrow. It's a good illustration of how to stimulate and deaden learning. And learning is what it's all about, because we have a lot of work to do to prepare our future work force.
Seth Godin speaks often about how the shifts in our world mandate a different approach to how we teach, learn and relate. It's not enough to instruct a child or young adult in how to follow directions. Machines can do that - and they can increasingly replace us in that endeavor. Says Godin, "The mission [of school] used to be to create homogenized, obedient, satisfied workers and pliant, eager consumers. No longer." He goes on to write that we need to teach children to lead and solve interesting problems.

When we teach a child to make good decisions, we benefit from a lifetime of good decisions. When we teach a child to love to learn, the amount of learning will become limitless. When we teach a child to deal with a changing world, she will never become obsolete. When we are brave enough to teach a child to question authority, even ours, we insulate ourselves from those who would use their authority to work against each of us. And when we give students the desire to make things, even choices, we create a world filled with makers."
Tomorrow's workers must be makers. So we need to color outside the lines in our current approach to education. That means more immersion in new experiences and problem solving and fewer monkey drawings. More active engagement and less rote repetition. The increasing connectiveness and competitiveness of our world will demand it.

(As a personal aside, I feel so strongly about this as a mother and employer that I recently changed jobs to commit myself to contributing to the solution. Last week, I joined ePals as incoming CEO to make the work of better serving students my full time endeavor.)

If you're a parent, you already have this job. This summer, when your child comes to you and declares he or she is bored, think about it. If you're like me, you are exasperated when this happens. (We're not alone.) But these moments are actually opportunities to begin the work of creating makers. Just as our schools must tackle that challenge, we can too if we:

·         Create opportunities for imaginative play. A ball of string or an empty box or a backyard is an empty palette. Let your child define and build their own world around something they can define in their own way.

·         Encourage the young entrepreneur. Don't solve the boredom problem for your child - let them figure it out -- or give them an interesting problem to solve.

·         Create opportunities for global connection. At ePals, we help teachers and parents create connections with students around the world. A fun place to start is to check out this climber who scaled Mount Everest - and answered questions from kids all over the planet.
It's never too early to begin to see boredom as a lost opportunity to learn - and to do something about it.
What were your best or worst moments of learning? How do you feel we can color outside the lines in thinking about tomorrow's work force? And what in your view should our schools be doing to prepare kids for our changing world? I'd like to learn from you. As one artist said, "In learning you will teach, and in teaching you will learn.” That is one way we all - workers of today or work force of tomorrow - can begin to help ourselves and each other.