This is the question that I chose to tackle this month for the Global Search for Education’s Global Blogger Series. In many ways, it spoke to me as part of the larger question that I am addressing in my dissertation research at Johns Hopkins – systemically innovating American public school districts to better prepare students to meet the intellectual demands of the knowledge economy.
However, to date, most of my research has focused on student skills. In 2003, economists Autor, Levy, and Murnane published a paper about the changing task composition of the labor market as a result of computerization and globalization. As computers became cheaper, smaller, and faster, they could replace many of the routine tasks that people had previously completed. (Think about ATM machines, credit card readers on gas pumps, data entry positions, etc).
In his book Raising Innovators, author and Harvard Professor Tony Wagner, claims the world needs “problem seekers.” So if we want our students to have these new skills – to seek out problems, to find novel solutions, to analyze and synthesize information across sources, to communicate and collaborate using the available technologies across distance and time (those all come from Levy & Murnane’s paper, Dancing with Robots) – then we also need to consider their attitudes and behaviors.
The most important attitude that our students may need to become contributing global citizens is empathy. How can we expect them to seek out problems and design novel solutions if they cannot connect with the individuals whose problems they need them to solve? Our students need to be able to deeply engage with others and embrace their perspective. And as educators, we need to give them the initial experiences on which they can then build new knowledge and understanding. (I credit Christine Boyer for that sentiment.)
Finally, as Tony Wagner said, we need to instill in our students the behavior of problem seeking. Our students need to be able to act to actually do something in the world around them. In a global society, we need students who have determination, persistence, and the internal motivation to seek out solutions to problems that we have never seen before, with technologies that have never existed, and in a world that none of us as educators, parents, and adults have ever experienced.
Today, I am wrapping up a three-day EdTechTeacher workshop with an amazing group of elementary teachers from across the United States and abroad. On day one, we came to a consensus about one critical fact: it’s not about me. As educators, we also need to develop the skills that our students will need, to engage in empathy with our students to deeply understand their reality, and to become problem-seekers ourselves to help prepare our students for the global world that they will enter, and hopefully, improve.