Don’t be just another brick in the wall

By Javier Aguera on May 14th, 2012

I was born in the 90s. My generation is commonly referred to as the “lost generation” or the “NEETs”, not in education, employment or training. And if you look at the figures, it’s true; youth unemployment has reached a critical point across Europe.

Young people account for two-fifths of the UK’s total unemployment, and the situation is even more critical in my homeland, Spain, where almost 50 per cent of the young workforce is unemployed. More worryingly, 80 per cent of them declare themselves to be happy with this lifestyle.

We’re also called the “C Generation”: the Connected Creators. Thanks to the internet, our impact on the connected world is more powerful than ever. Not only do we have almost-universal access to higher education, which was unthinkable just a few decades ago, but thanks to the internet we can access hexabytes of free information covering almost any field of human knowledge. In fact, it’s safe to say that we are the generation with the most amount of information at our finger tips ever seen.

So, how do the two notions match? The answer is simple: they don’t. Our old education system hasn’t been able to catch up with the present, which is constantly evolving. Rather than providing children with the tools needed to tackle the unexpected and to deal with uncertainty, the world is preparing its children to solve problems that will be outdated by the time they reach the “real world”.

That’s not to say that all current methods are entirely worthless. We just need to give them a shake up, taking into account three main lessons.

First is curiosity. Curiosity should not only be encouraged, but also taught. It isn’t just a matter of wanting to seek information by yourself, but also being able to filter, segregate and prioritize it in an efficient way. Sadly for all of us, the real world doesn’t offer a textbook that contains all of the information needed to pass the exam.

Next, creativity. This is important, helping us to adapt solutions for new, unseen problems which may not have been approached correctly yet. Let children make mistakes; allow them to step out of the circle sometimes and come back in. As Sir Ken Robinson said: “You will hardly come with anything original unless you are prepared to be wrong.”

Finally, compromise. Not just with each other, but with the rest of the world. Instagram grew to almost 30 million users in less than two years, but there are still five billion people not connected to the internet. We are technologically privileged, and at some point children need to see what lies outside of the bubble. They need to understand the impact of their choices.

While many of these ideas are utopian, there are some key, exact actions that we can take immediately.

Teachers are the orchestra directors of education, but they are publicly regarded as being the ticket sellers on the door. In my own experience as a “learner”, I’ve only retained knowledge offered by people that I admire. Educational excellence should be attracted and compensated; and the prestige that teachers used to have should be recovered.

Educational subjects need to be redefined. Not in terms of what subjects are taught, but how they interlink. Most graduates have several “blocks” of knowledge, but the “natural sciences” won’t be linked to “history” or “IT”, even though they can all be easily connected. We have to transform raw knowledge into smart knowledge, which the student can use later in his professional or working life.

Stop the university hype. Seriously. Young people should not be automatically judged for not having a university degree or attending a second-class university. University degrees are no longer as valid as they used to be.

There is a moral duty for us to prepare future generations as best as possible. The next generation will need to be creative and curious and have the ability to compromise. These skills will enable them to decide, on their own, whether they ought to be entrepreneurs or physicists, dentists or electricians. Upgrading our education system is a key part of our heritage.