Preparing our children for a world that does not exist

Preparing our children for a world that does not exist

– how schools can make the difference

We live in a rapidly changing world. A world in which, statisticians claim, 80% of the jobs our children will do have not yet been invented. In order to thrive and succeed in such times global thinkers such as DAVOS (World Economic Forum think tank), economists like Thomas Friedman (‘The World is Flat’), The CEOs of companies such as IBM and Google appear to agree that we are all going to need five key capabilities; creativity, ingenuity, agility, adaptability and sociability. This has huge implications for schooling, in general, and teachers, in particular.

I believe that there is no profession that can transform lives as effectively as teaching or, as I prefer to call it, ‘magic-weaving’. Key research such as The McKinsey Report (2007) found that no education system can exceed the quality of its teachers. McKinsey examined the top 10 performing global education systems and identified three things each system does well:

  • They have the most able people become teachers.
  • They develop these people into effective instructors.
  • They put systems in place to ensure every child can benefit from this instruction

I see three clear imperatives – political will, the embrace of change and the development of growth mindsets.


Politicians must support and promote the growth of an educational system which can find the right people and enable them to do the right things, in the right way, for the right reason. They must set the right priorities; by paying teachers well; by avoiding the use of education as a political football; by championing teaching as a great career path (in Finland, one of the consistently highest-performing global education systems, teaching outstrips medicine and law as the most popular career choice although not the highest paid); by relieving teachers of unnecessary bureaucracy and by granting extensive statutory time for professional development and lesson preparation (in Singapore, another PISA high-performing system, teachers teach far less than in the UK and are given generous preparation time).


Schools are going to need to develop learning environments which, while encouraging the relentless pursuit of excellence, also seek to promote a culture which questions the status quo and invites staff to take risks and embrace change. John Dewey said that if we teach children today as we taught them yesterday we will deprive them of their tomorrow. I have a concern that, though teachers and schools are exploring change, they are failing to do so at the rate required. For too long education has taken the option of repeating itself, comfortable in a culture of standardization and compliance. Worryingly, the curriculum we deliver today is not sufficiently different from that of 100 years ago. According to Oxford University, over the next 25 years the world will lose 50 per cent of all jobs that exist today, so, in effect, we are preparing our children for tomorrow using a system designed for yesterday. Sugata Mitra puts it more starkly: “We are preparing our students for employers who died a century ago.” School leaders need to encourage teachers to break free of their comfort zones, let go of traditional methods and embark on the journey from controlled, through guided and on to free, self-directed learning.


My third imperative will focus on the way in which society views attainment and what Matthew Syed calls calls ‘the myth of talent’. Drawing on Carol Dweck’s work on Fixed/Growth Mindsets, I would encourage both teachers and parents to readjust their thinking on high performance. Fixed mindset thinking has held back so many. I confess that, as a young teacher and parent, I thought that being clever was more important than working hard; that ability was fixed – some have it and some don’t; that being correct was good and failure was bad and, more crucially, that you are who you are and changing is difficult. I was comfortable with words like gifted, talented, natural and prodigy. How wrong I was. In my sixth decade I have come to a realization that effort and hard work should be praised more than being smart; that learning how to handle failure is a key life skill; that all of us possess that inner spark and finding your genius is more important than being a genius; that in the right political system, in great schools, working in new ways with brilliant teachers and supportive parents anything is possible and is there for all, not just a select few. It’s called ‘learning without limits’.

Steiner wrote of the calling of the teacher: ‘There is no craft more privileged – to awaken in another human being powers and dreams beyond one’s own; to induce in others a love for that which one loves; to make of one’s inward present their future. This is a threshold adventure like no other.’ That odyssey is daunting, the destination uncertain but I offer those five modern capabilities and my three imperatives as the genesis of a map. Are you up for the journey? John Dewey was right: if we teach the children today the way we taught them yesterday then we deprive them of their tomorrow. I offer those words as motivation to share the first faltering steps.

News Release for the Leading Remarkable Learning Conference, New Zealand Jan 2017