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Future Smart Kids Need More Than Their ABC’s

What are the magic ingredients your child will need to flourish in an unpredictable world? And how can they be developed?

Few television shows have had the cultural impact of Star Trek and this is especially evident in the one-liners that have become part of the English language. Captain Kirk’s opening narration ‘To boldly go where no man has gone before’ had a sense of futuristic nonsense to it. Well, we live in that place now. Wearable technologies, handheld computers, electronic navigation, location settings, voice-activated computers and augmented reality are part of our current world.

Many adults find the pace of change somewhat overwhelming and the phrase ‘change fatigue’ has real application for most of us. This is not so with children. Teenagers regard ongoing technological advances as the norm and absorb them very easily. The digital environment is natural to them; it is not an optional extra. It is integral to the way they live, relate and view life.

The pace of change will not lessen and may increase. Therefore, a core life skill for our children is to learn how to hold on to this magical ability they have at present, so they can keep adapting to change as a normal part of work and leisure in the future.

Knowing how to learn to be ‘future smart’

However, the Digital Age also brings challenges and pressures that are new in our society.  The rate of technological innovation is now so fast that schools are educating students for a world that doesn’t exist yet. Young people must acquire the knowledge, skills and confidence to make digital technology work for them at school, at home, at work and in their communities. Knowing how to learn has become an essential skill. Working with digital technologies in schools provides an opportunity to transform how students think and learn and also give them greater control over what, how, where and when they learn.

This isn’t a new trend either. The Australian government recognises the need to keep up with this ever-morphing landscape and has identified Information and Communication Technology (ICT) capability as an important element of the new Australian Curriculum. ICT capability involves students learning to make the most of the digital technologies available to them, adapting to new ways of doing things as technologies evolve and learning how to limit the risk to themselves and others in a digital environment.

Parents are also well aware of the impact of the digital landscape on young people’s lives. Many parents find themselves in the role of guide to the digital environment for their children without having read the manual. Of course, we all know there is no manual! The scary thing is, if someone were to write a manual, it would be obsolete the moment it was published.

Developing the Headware and Heartware

So, how do we all, as a society, assist our young people to be effective and responsible citizens of a Digital Age? Lee Watanabe Crockett is acknowledged globally as an innovator in education for the Digital Age. He holds that being 21st Century fluent has nothing to do with hardware; it is about headware and heartware. Young people must learn to develop, debate and create in a digital environment.

Some overarching skills are emerging as a set of digital meta-skills critical for managing digital information, navigating the flood of data and embracing technological innovation. Some of these emerging meta-skills are critical evaluation, visual conceptualization, holistic thinking, collaboration, solutions-focused problem solving, dealing with uncertainty and ethical thinking. Our schools are integrating these skills into subject curriculum and most teachers are on a steep learning curve.

Asking the Right Questions

So are parents totally out of the education loop now that the Digital Age has arrived? Absolutely not. In fact, they are better placed to contribute meaningfully to the education of their children. Education is not just about facts; it is also about good learning processes. Parents can assist a child with any of the emerging meta-skills mentioned above.

It doesn’t matter if a parent has forgotten the name of the longest river in the world; this could lead to a great conversation with children about conceptualizing what the longest river might look like, considering challenges that face people who live along the river and posing economic and ethical issues that might arise in the future if the river is mined, dammed, irrigated or just neglected. Parents who have this conversation with their children have just encouraged conceptualization, critical and ethical thinking. If Google gets involved, then add research skills to this list!

How long will it be before a scientist somewhere in the world will be able to say ‘Beam me up, Scotty’? This scientist could be one of our children! Parents can be excellent guides-on-the-side for children as they navigate the digital landscape; the secret is to ask good questions. With new technology the world expands with opportunities for young people to work together; to embrace the digital environment to make a positive difference in their own lives and the lives of others.

by Miriam Scott

Leader of eLearning – Hillbrook Anglican School

This article was published in Issue 17 of our print magazine, August/September 2016.

Photo of author

Janine Mergler

Janine Mergler is a veteran Queensland teacher, graduating from QUT with a BEd majoring in Social Sciences. After many years in the classroom, Janine moved on to academia. She has proudly trained new generations of teachers in her role as a lecturer at Queensland University of Technology Faculty of Education. She has also worked in the Queensland Government as an education specialist, developing education resources and delivering community awareness programs to help families conserve water. Currently she is the owner and editor of Families Magazine, a publication specifically targeted at parents who value a quality education for children.  Janine leads a team of professionals who write about family lifestyle, early childhood, schools and education information and family-friendly events.

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