“Education,” scholar and writer Ralph Ellison once said, “is a matter of building bridges.” And perhaps, no bridge is more important than the bridge to the future. As educators, it’s our responsibility to prepare students for the world of tomorrow. Yet tomorrow isn’t what it used to be.
The timeline from the Gold Rush to Google spans just beyond 150 years, but if you look at the rate of change during this period it feels more like a geologic epoch. We’ve gone from transcontinental railroads to robotic rovers on Mars. Today an iPhone has more computing power than the entire North American Air Defense Command had in 1965.
Conversely, our system of universal education, which is about the same age, has changed more glacially. In fact, in recent decades glaciers have changed more rapidly than our schools. And this highlights the tip of a rapidly morphing iceberg: The world is undergoing foundational shifts. Universal education was designed to meet the social and economic needs of the industrial revolution. The social and economic needs of today are emerging within a digitally networked society, and the rate of change doesn’t appear to be slowing down. According to Cathy Davidson, chair of Duke University’s Digital Futures Task Force, 65 percent of today’s grade schoolers will end up doing work that hasn’t been invented yet.
How do we prepare students for work that hasn’t been invented yet? While it’s difficult to predict what the social and economic climate will be like in the years to come, we can analyze trends and extrapolate future scenarios.