Education for Civilization-level Change

Let’s have a look at the future of humanity….

In the short term, we are living through an era of disruptive innovations and an abundance of resources due to exponential technologies. The law of accelerating returns means that the very rate of technological growth will be growing by orders of magnitudes as we head towards the coming technological singularity.

As a result, in the long term, leading experts are predicting a future where we modify the genome of life on Earth, colonize Mars, have everyday immersive experiences in virtual reality and even upload our consciousness onto machines. These aren’t just wild speculations — entrepreneurs, researchers and innovators are actually getting us there on the path of human progress.

Yet, technological progress is half of what’s required for human progress and civilization-level change. The other half involves the intellectual progress of our species — something that all of us in education are responsible for. However, we need to ask ourselves some difficult questions.

Are we preparing our students for this kind of a radically new world? Are we teaching them the morals they need to use such powerful technology wisely? Are we inspiring them with the values required to be ambassadors of planet Earth?

The bottom line is that traditional curricula fail to prepare our students for a world of exponential growth and accelerating change. Traditional pedagogical models and educational systems are not designed to prepare our youth to contribute to civilization-level change.

Civilization-level change

Renowned education expert and Awecademy advisory board member, Marc Prensky, points out that “we educate our kids so they can better their, and our, world. Our children can be, and should be, improving their world — and improving themselves in the process — via a new approach that far better suits them and the needs of our future society. From the very start of their education, we should be fusing ‘thinking skills’ and ‘accomplishing skills’ into an education with a direct, hands-on connection to the world and its problems.”

Civilization-level change is all about using moonshot thinking to tackle humanity’s most pressing challenges at a global scale. Examples of revolutionary transformation at the civilizational level include eradicating poverty, promoting global enlightenment and even becoming a multi-planetary species.

Our students should be a part of this species-wide mission. In reality, many of your young minds have untapped potential and capabilities to contribute to human progress while they are students. The act of doing, can, in return, allow them to improve many of their 21st century skills — such as creative problem solving, collaboration and independent learning.

So how do we design our school systems to allow for civilization-level change?

Limitations of Traditional School Systems

Traditional school curricula were designed for the industrial era to produce factory-style workers — a model that is no longer relevant in our digital and fast-changing world and one that does not fulfill our overarching mission. There continues to be an emphasis on short-term grades, individual achievement, isolated subjects and outdated content knowledge. Many teaching strategies also lack a scientific basis in pedagogy and effectiveness.

What we are seeing is that most students are not taught to be self-motivated lifelong learners, nor do they come out of the school system with the skills, mindsets, and values required to survive a world of accelerating change. Above all, most students do not graduate to feeling empowered and equipped to contribute to human progress.

A Different Education

As Tony Wagner points out, “For students to become innovators in the twenty-first century, they need a different education, not merely more education.”

As a society, we need to change our perception of the word “education” at the most fundamental level. Education should not be something that we do at a specific institution for a specific period of time for a certification. Instead, it should be a lifelong journey of exploration, self-discovery, and transcendence driven by intrinsic rewards.

It’s not enough to simply innovate our educational technology and tools. More tablets or digital whiteboards doesn’t necessarily translate to more effective learning. After all, there is no point digitizing curricula that focuses on outdated content and fails to foster the critical skills and abilities that our youth need.

What we need is more innovation and moonshots — not just with our educational tools, but also our education content, strategy and policies.

Furthermore, one of the fundamental tenets of a future-oriented curriculum should be to prepare young minds to tackle what Singularity University calls Global Grand Challenges — which highlights some of the most pressing issues that face our species today. We’ve seen a growing body of evidence pointing to the benefits of project-based learning. Education that focuses on global challenges takes project-based learning a step further by integrating it with a big-picture purpose. What better way to motivate our students than by revolving their learning experience around a grand vision for humanity?

The real world is far more complex and inter-related than what we’ve been traditionally portraying to our students. Consider some of the challenges that we are faced with today: climate change, access to education, cybersecurity, mental health epidemic and so on. No single discipline can adequately describe and resolve each of these global grand challenges. Only a collection of them can.

As a result, our curricula need to focus less on isolated subjects and more on multidisciplinary themes. Human progress won’t just be shaped by technology or science. It will also be shaped and influenced by ideas from philosophy, history, sociology and ethics — which we use to decide how we should use powerful emerging technology. It’s exactly why all of the programs at Awecademy are interdisciplinary by nature.

Beyond the real-world practical benefits, interdisciplinary learning is more fulfilling . It can allow students to learn things they may not be interested in — in the context of fields that they are more naturally interested in. Research from neuroscience has also shown us that multidisciplinary learning improves creativity, problem-solving skills, and analytical thinking.

An educational system designed for civilization-level change should also be one that cultivates creativity and imagination. Before we can go ahead to create or design a radical solution, we have to be able to imagine it. Contrary to popular belief, imagination and creativity are a) not completely intuitive/innate, and b) not just critical for those officially in creative jobs. Like any other skill, these abilities can be cultivated and are critical to individuals from all professional backgrounds.

By using the knowledge they gain to actively solve problems, student of Awecademy are being encouraged to not just be passive consumers of information, but also to be involved in creative processes as active doers. Other imagination-enabling activities can include self-reflection, creative writing, listening to inspiring non-lyrical music, immersing oneself in creative films or books, and so on.

The New Purpose of Education

For a truly powerful education, we need to think beyond preparing our youth for nine-to-five jobs. We need to start looking at education from a grander and more transcendental perspective. Awecademy’s mission is to leverage the tools of exponential technologies to solve the grand challenges facing our species and create a new generation of existential thinkers and compassionate doers.

It’s about time that our curricula began to empower learners of all ages everywhere to take education into their own hands and refocus humanity’s hopes, dreams, and ambitions.