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Preparing Children for Tomorrow: A Guide to Future-Proof Education

Why all educators should cultivate future-ready skills and foster lifelong learning to unlock students' potential in 21st-century learning.

· Design Innovation,Design,Teaching,Education

Nowadays, smartphones, computers, and smart systems are a big part of our lives. But, when it comes to education, things are changing slowly. Even though we're in a time where technology is growing fast, education is not keeping up.

Right now, many schools are trying to teach students how to solve real-world problems, but the things they teach do not match what's happening in the world. Most of what students learn needs to be updated for the world they live in.

Did you know that 65% of elementary school students will have jobs that we don't know yet? And, by 2030, more than 800 million jobs will be lost because of machines doing the work.

deloitte university press education vs technology change

According to the Future of Jobs Report by the World Economic Forum in 2023, the ongoing impact of COVID-19 is reshaping workplace skills due to increased reliance on automation and AI. The report emphasizes the sustained significance of analytical and creative thinking for workers in 2023. Projections for the next five years highlight a rapid growth in the importance of cognitive skills, underscoring the need to foster adept problem-solving abilities. Additionally, systems thinking, AI, and big data rank among the top 10 skills expected to rise in prominence during this period.

future of jobs report top 10 skills 2020

With over 75% of companies expressing interest in adopting these technologies, the increasing influence of automation and AI is set to shape the future landscape of workplace skills. There is a pressing need to quickly evolve the way our society prepares children to take on future challenges.

Don't Hesitate, Begin Fostering Gen Z Early On

Industry experts such as Doreen Lorenzo, who previously served as the President of Frog Design for 7 years, are doing their part in proliferating Design Innovation (DI). They recognize the importance of teaching youths the importance of collaboration, critical problem-solving, creativity, and empathy in today’s world through Design Innovation.

Innovators are nurtured, not born, and we should start nurturing these life skills as early as possible. Harvard University’s Center of Developing Child states that children and adults alike, need the practice to develop and learn a set of core life skills to manage school, work, outside interests, and social relationships successfully.

These skills include planning, focus, self-control, awareness, and flexibility — also known as executive functioning and self-regulation skills. As the different areas of the brain mature during adolescence, their ability to function as an interconnected system improves. Practicing core life skills during adolescence helps the brain build the most efficient pathways to support these skills throughout life.

window of opportunity for skill-building for life skills

The brain is dynamic and changes according to what we do and experience and the impact of experiences is greatest when specific regions of the brain are still developing.

Multiple studies and research referenced in this peer-reviewed research paper have shown that improvements in Executive Functions (EFs) were measurably significant and in some cases, large gains were documented when a certain intervention or program was introduced. Students who had undergone an intervention or program showed better executive functions than the control group and were able to consistently perform better in math and reading three years on. This shows how impactful it is to begin nurturing these skills, no matter its scale.

There are many different activities that parents and educators can use to boost children’s executive functioning skills at different stages of their growth. Working memory, inhibitory control and cognitive flexibility as the basic dimensions of skills. Most, if not, ALL of them listed in the report, involve learning the skills through play. Play is a developmental tool. “Through creative play, games, and schoolwork, children practice integrating their attention, working memory, and self-control to support planning, flexible problem-solving, and sustained engagement.

From our experience in designing and delivering multiple Design Innovation holiday camps to little ones as young as 6 years old; going through simplified design methods and activities in a playful but sincere manner does help to nurture their empathy to solve problems for others. They also deeply care about the problems that we showed them and albeit on a surface level, they were able to think from their user personas’ perspectives to generate creative solutions based on their understanding of those problems. Of course, they were just building their solutions using Lego EV3, but that showed us and their parents the potential of a 5-year-old comprehending human-centered design (HCD) and how it affects the way they think, feel, and do things.

Building Core Life Skills Through Design Innovation

The Design Innovation (DI) process trains and strengthens the connections between both hemispheres of the human brain. The more we use these connections, the stronger and faster they become.

The right brain is known to process visual, emotive, imaginative, and intuitive information. This is where empathy is harnessed to help children understand users’ perspectives and discover opportunities to work on. The left brain, on the other hand, typically processes information logically, verbally, analytically, and orderly. This is how they learn to focus, plan, build, test, and critically assess their ideas.

left and right brain

1. Design Innovation Enables The Youth to Practice Real-Life Situations

Design Innovation encourages and exposes youths to real-life social challenges people face from different walks of life. A design innovation-focused course is based on challenge-based learning (CBL) principles. CBL is a method of teaching and learning pioneered by the education group within Apple. The goal of the learning activities is to make learning relevant to students by connecting large problems (i.e. water, plastic, and food) to experiences they encounter every day. A scaffolding of question-asking and exercises help students create implementable solutions to their challenges.

Both CBL and DI begin with an initial ambiguous challenge that encourages students to identify and define specific problems within a topic. Furthermore, students interact with these specific problems in a very real way inside and/or outside of the classroom. While using design methods to conduct interviews, analyze data, and test their solutions, they learn how to distill information and design objectives based on their observations and interactions with real users.

Skills in play: Focus, Flexibility, Awareness

2. Being in Teams Helps Them Spot and Plan for Emotional Triggers

Collaboration is a major component of DI. The impact self and social awareness have on students’ ability to work in teams is huge. Social Emotional Learning (SEL) takes place naturally when students work together because there are bound to be disagreements within teams, which may potentially trigger some intense emotions. It is then and there that students have to manage their own emotions and learn to take preventative actions — taking a deep breath, stopping to think, and focusing on long-term goals for the project when such a predicament arises. This kind of learning activity empowers youth to become more self-aware and develop coping strategies for the heat of the moment.

Skills in play: Awareness, Self-Control

3. They Take on the User’s View

DI is a human-centered approach to problem-solving. Youths are encouraged to ask people they trust in how they cope with the problems they face. Often, we teach them to empathize and emulate that pain the users go through. Being able to experience the problem brings their understanding to a whole new level. Oftentimes, they have a breakthrough in understanding HCD after emulating the scenarios their users go through. From the emulation experience, they internalize the importance of being in the shoes of users in the DI process. It drives their DI process as they develop acumen in discerning others’ perspectives and motivations when they solve problems or suggest potential solutions for their audience group.

Skills in play: Awareness, Flexibility, Self-Control

4. It Keeps Them Focused on Personally Motivating Goals

Adolescence is a time for finding one’s place in the world; for forming a consistent sense of self that will serve as a framework for making choices now and in the future. DI encourages youth to discover their passions. Students get to work on topics they deeply care about e.g animal cruelty, single-use plastic, etc. Within the projects, they have the opportunity to identify what they are good at and what they like to do, be it design, coding, or making. This makes up half of the Ikigai lifestyle value that many entrepreneurs live by. The ability to figure those two parts about themselves is a great feat. It truly empowers young people to strengthen their self-identity, think long-term, and practice goal-directed behavior.

Skills in play: Planning, Flexibility

ikigai codomo

5. Growth Mindset is Embedded Within The Process 

The whole basis of a growth mindset is the ability to change and adapt through learning. Individuals with growth mindsets embrace challenges, persist in the face of challenges, see effort as the path to mastery, learn from criticism, and find lessons and inspiration in the success of others. Besides understanding users, the DI process encourages students to take on problems with an indirect and creative approach. Students have to craft viable solutions for a certain problem without a step-by-step guide. It means that as a group, students have to be self-directed and flexible in their ideation and prototyping approach. As they prototype their designs, youths are encouraged to generate a wide range of ideas, test it with users, gain feedback, and iterate their design by learning from their mistakes and failures. With the fail fast, fail forward iterative mindset ingrained in the process, the growth mindset is enlivened.

Skills in play: Flexibility, Planning 

Ongoing Initiatives in Singapore

As we move into a world where we foresee computers taking over a significant part of the workforce, it is imminent that children develop competency in comprehending complex systems and content to combat challenges and seize opportunities that arise as a result of the advancement of technology.

40% of workforce obsolete 2030

By building their core life skills and mindsets early, they will be more prepared for the challenging creative work that is awaiting them. Parents, educators, schools, the government, and the corporations in Singapore have all realized the need for DI to be within the school’s curriculum and are initiating multiple programs and competitions that teach DI and Entrepreneurship for K-12 level students.

The access and introduction of creative, versatile, and affordable educational technology tools such as the Micro:bit and Rolljak in schools is one of the main propellers for primary and secondary schools to begin implementing DI-based curricula. This is because the government and school officials all see value in the learning and application of key 21st-century skills such as programming, but the Micro:bit is merely a tool, programming it on its own does nothing. The full potential of a tool is realised when it is put to use for a purpose. That purpose is to solve problems creatively, which is where HCD comes in, students have to know what kinds of problems they can solve and who will benefit from it.

In the last 7 years, governmental organizations such as Design Singapore and the Education Technology Department of Ministry of Education have been doing their part collaborating with institutions and companies like ourselves to conduct Design Thinking workshop and events for both teachers and students. JP Morgan Foundation is among the many corporate foundations that are partnering with institutions and non-profit organizations to conduct competitions that are DI-centric. These joint efforts from the public and private sectors are paving the way for Innovating Education and Educating for Innovation, join in the DI in education movement today.

Ongoing Elevating 21st-Century Learning with Interactive Learning Platforms

Numerous tools have been designed to support the learning process, especially to support 21st-century learning skills. One notable example is an interactive learning platform that facilitates collaboration or teamwork, real-time engagement, and problem-solving. The tools are needed to enable students to work interdependently as a team, foster effective communication, and hone critical thinking and problem-solving skills – essential components of 21st-century education.

A good education tech tool for 21st-century learning should possess certain key attributes. Firstly, it should boost engagement and have fun learning vibes. Allowing the student to work together seamlessly will increase their collaboration skills.

Secondly, the tools should be adaptable and capable of getting a personalized learning journey. Additionally, real-time feedback is crucial for student development as well. An interactive learning platform enables immediate insights from teachers into students’ progress and areas for improvement. Lastly, the tools should sharpen students’ critical thinking abilities. What remains essential is that these tools should possess user-friendly interfaces, ensuring both educators and students can navigate them effortlessly, thus fostering a seamless learning experience.

In conclusion, the landscape of education technology is vast, with tools specifically designed to support 21st-century learning skills. The effectiveness of these tools lies in their ability to boost engagement and encourage collaboration, adaptability, real-time feedback, and user-friendly interfaces – essential elements for preparing students for the challenges of the modern world.