Peter Diamandis Shares His Views on Education in the 21st Century – Part 1: The Issues and Guiding Principles

November 22, 2016 – Last week I received in my inbox from Peter Diamandis a longer than normal mind sharing about education now and in the future. I have divided into smaller segments to share with my readers here at 21st Century Tech. Diamandis questions today’s elementary education curriculum and its relevance to the exponential change that is part of the 21st century. So here goes Part 1.


 

Students in Wetzel Elementary School take first steps in 21st Century Teaching and Learning. Photo credit: Bernd Mai

Students in Wetzel Elementary School in Baumholder, Germany take first steps in 21st Century Teaching and Learning. Photo credit: Bernd Mai

 

Here in L.A., it’s kind of insane that a great kindergarten requires a competitive application and tuition that exceeds most colleges.

I started asking myself, given the fact that most elementary schools haven’t changed in decades (maybe longer), what do I want my kids to learn? How would I reinvent elementary school during an exponential era?

Five Issues with Today’s Elementary Schools

There’s probably lots of issues about traditional elementary schools that may bother you but these are a few that bother me most.

  1. Grading: In the traditional education system, you start at an “A,” and every time you get something wrong, your score gets lower and lower. At best it’s demotivating, and at worst it has nothing to do with the world you occupy as an adult. In the gaming world (e.g. Angry Birds), it’s just the opposite. You start with zero and every time you come up with something right, your score gets higher and higher.
  2. Sage on the Stage: Most classrooms have a teacher up in front of class lecturing to a classroom of students, half of whom are bored and half of whom are lost. The one-teacher-fits-all model comes from an era of scarcity where great teachers and schools were rare.
  3. Relevance: When I think back to elementary and secondary school, I realize how much of what I learned was never actually useful later in life, and how many of my critical lessons for success I had to pick up on my own. (I don’t know about you, but I have never had to factor a polynomial in my adult life.)
  4. Imagination – Coloring inside the Lines: Probably of greatest concern to me is the factory-worker, industrial-era origin of today’s schools — programs so structured with rote memorization that it squashes the originality from most children. I’m reminded that “the day before something is truly a breakthrough, it’s a crazy idea.” Where do we pursue crazy ideas in our schools? Where do we foster imagination?
  5. Boring: If learning in school is a chore, boring or emotionless, then the most important driver of human learning, passion, is not being engaged. Having our children memorize facts and figures, sit passively in class and take mundane standardized tests completely defeats the purpose.

An average of 7,200 students drop out of high school each day, totaling 1.3 million each year. This means only 69% of students who start high school finish four years later. And over 50% of these high school dropouts name boredom as the No. 1 reason they left.

Five Guiding Principles for Future Education

I imagine a relatively near-term future in which robotics and artificial intelligence will allow any of us, from ages 8 to 108, to easily and quickly find answers, create products or accomplish tasks, all simply by expressing our desires. From “mind to manufactured in moments.” In short, we’ll be able to do and create almost whatever we want.

In this future, what attributes will be most critical for our children to learn to become successful in their adult life? What’s most important for educating our children today?

For me it’s about passion, curiosity, imagination, critical thinking and grit.

  1. Passion: You’d be amazed at how many people don’t have a mission in life… A calling… something to jolt them out of bed every morning. The most valuable resource for humanity is the persistent and passionate human mind, so creating a future of passionate kids is so very important. For my 5-year-old boys, I want to support them in finding their passion or purpose… something that is uniquely theirs. In the same way that the Apollo program and Star Trek drove my early love for all things space, and that passion drove me to learn and do.
  2. Curiosity: Curiosity is something innate in kids, yet something lost by most adults during the course of their life. Why? In a world of Google, robots and AI, raising a kid that is constantly asking questions and running “what if” experiments can be extremely valuable. In an age of machine learning, massive data and a trillion sensors, it will be the quality of your questions that will be most important.
  3. Imagination: Entrepreneurs and visionaries imagine the world (and the future) they want to live in, and then they create it. Kids happen to be some of the most imaginative humans around… it’s critical that they know how important and liberating imagination can be.
  4. Critical Thinking: In a world flooded with often-conflicting ideas, baseless claims, misleading headlines, negative news and misinformation, learning the skill of critical thinking helps find the signal in the noise. This principle is perhaps the most difficult to teach kids.
  5. Grit/Persistence: Grit is defined as “passion and perseverance in pursuit of long-term goals,” and it has recently been widely acknowledged as one of the most important predictors of and contributors to success.

Teaching your kids not to give up, to keep trying, and to keep trying new ideas for something that they are truly passionate about achieving is extremely critical. Much of my personal success has come from such stubbornness. I joke that both XPRIZE and the Zero Gravity Corporation were “overnight successes after 10 years of hard work.”


In Part 2 of Diamandis’ mind sharing he’ll describe what he believes the elementary curriculum should look like. For teachers who read this blog please feel free to add your personal perspective and I promise to share your ideas with Diamandis.


Len Rosen lives in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. He is a researcher and writer who has a fascination with science and technology. He is married with a daughter who works in radio, and a miniature red poodle who is his daily companion on walks of discovery. More...

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