Today the world is speeding up towards super-industrialism. The equivalent of millennia of change gets compressed within a single lifespan. Will we have a ‘soft landing’? asks visionary thinker Alvin Toffler ( 1928-2016 ) in his book ‘Future Shock’. Because, as we accelerate closer, Toffler says, the evidence mounts that a critical ‘soft-landing’ system — education — is dangerously malfunctioning.
Even in our ‘best’ schools, education is a hopeless anachronism. Although we try to change it, the changes are no more than attempts to making it more efficient in pursuit of old goals. It fails to prepare young generation for life in the future, crippling their chances in the world of tomorrow. Faced backward rather than forward, it produces Industrial Men, people tooled for survival in a system that will be dead before they are.
Every society has its own attitude to the past, present and future, writes Toffler. This attitude determines how it prepares its young for adulthood. If past creeps in the present, society arms its young with the skills of the past; young get chained to the past of their elders. Cultures that change rapidly, bring up its young focused on the ‘deep future’, and this is critical to their ability to adapt and cope with change.
In the world of tomorrow, skills of the past are handicaps. The new world does not need men who take orders and submit to authority. The new world needs creative men and women who can disregard old ideas and replace them with new alternatives, who can anticipate the directions and rate of change and survive its hurricane. In the world where technology is replacing routine work, there is a need for people who can perform creative tasks.
New schools should therefore actively teach creativity. Students should freely explore novel possibilities and probabilities. Learn not just ‘what is?’ but ‘what cab be?’ Not only knowledge but how to connect the knowledge. This ‘master programme’ of the mind is critical to the capacity to think and learn.
Creativity makes young people future-focused, for creativity is always future-based. This does not mean blindly accepting any future horrors or change for change sake, but developing a powerful ‘What will happen next?’ curiosity.
While in school, students should learn to apply their creativity in real life, participating in community activities and enterprises. In addition to lectures, they should learn through the arts, games, role-playing and ‘contrived experiences’, organise themselves into projects and shift from team to individual work.
A curriculum should be shaped by students and community, not only by professional educators. Nothing should be included in it unless it is justified in terms of the future. The new curriculum must be flexible and fluid, balancing knowledge and skills. It should be oriented towards a lifelong learning as skills learned in youth would be irrelevant by the later age.
Enabling creativity is the mission of new education. Creative individuals are better equipped to meet and drive the impact of change. So, to paraphrase psychologist Herbert Gerjuoy, tomorrow’s illiterate will not be the men who lack the ability to read and write, but the men who lack creativity.
Alla Tkachuk is a Founder of the MASK School for Creativity and Innovation, and the MASK Prize, the renowned creativity competition for schools and young people in Kenya.