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Are you building your children’s skills for the past or the future?

By Alice Tenjiwe Kabwe and Matthew Grollnek

The world is changing and the skills our children will need for the jobs of the future and our future society are different from what has been needed in the past. The rapid pace of technology-change, including automation and artificial intelligence, is quickly changing the nature of jobs, and, therefore, the skills that will make them successful. In addition, the rise of new, tech-enabled business models (e.g. freelancing) will mean that our children can expect to have multiple career changes, and will need to quickly learn new technical skills throughout their lifetime. Gone are the days of one job for 30 years, then retire. Beyond work, technology has also changed how we interact individually and as a society. As a result, the skills we need to build relationships and create cohesive social structures are different than in the past. Research from leading organizations like the World Bank and the World Economic Forum tell us that the core skills needed for success in this future revolve around three categories: 1. critical thinking, 2. sociobehavioral, and 3. self-regulation & motivation skills.

For our children, the time to lay the foundation for these skills is now, when they are young. The early years of life, especially from conception to three, is a critical period when the architecture of our children’s brains are formed in part due to the relationships and experiences we provide them. During this period, their foundation for health, learning and behavior is built. Even for higher cognitive functions, including the skills needed for the future, this period is vital (as indicated in the graph below). Research from economists, such as James Heckman, have also shown that gains made during this period persist throughout life and have a significant effect on adult social relationships, well-being and future earnings. Beyond the early years, as our children enter into formal education, they continue to build on these critical skills. While technical skills and traditional subjects (e.g. reading, writing, math, geography) are helpful, overemphasizing them in the early years can reduce the time for building the skills that will make them successful in the future. Parents and educators can future-proof their kids by ensuring that they are aligning their play, peer interactions and education toward these skills, especially during childhood.

Source: C. Nelson (2000)

As parents of young children, when schools closed from COVID, we drew from our expertise and leading research to build a framework that outlines the skills that they will need to be successful members of society and leaders in the future of work, as seen in the diagram below. We are building their skills in decision making, creativity and dealing with ambiguity to build critical thinking skills that are difficult for computers to replicate. Skills like empathy, collaboration and growth mindset / grit set them up to work with others and strengthen their inner-selves, attributes critical for the future of work. Gratitude and finding meaning, meanwhile, help build social cohesion and equity that benefit everyone. Alongside this skills framework, we have identified three cross-cutting topics that will be increasingly important for the future: sustainability, diversity & inclusion, and technology. Learning to both appreciate and leverage these focal areas further ensures that our children will be ready to tackle the issues they will face in their lifetime.

We want your feedback on how we can best help you teach these skills to your children. We are designing content and materials to guide parents and teachers as they instill these skills in their kids. If you are a parent, caregiver, or educator of kids between 0 and 10, let us know what questions you have about raising children and the types of products you would be interested in (e.g. full curriculum, individual activity outlines, eBooks, online parenting course, short videos or online parenting tips, etc.). If you are in the field of ECD or the Future of Work, let us know your thoughts on our approach. Together we can align our kids’ learning to the skills needed for the future, giving them the tools they need for the rest of their lives, and we want to know how we can best help you along the way.

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Alice and Matthew are married with two young children. They are a multicultural couple with different backgrounds, Matthew from the United States and Alice from Zambia and the United States. They are also experts in their respective fields, approaching skills development from different view-points. Alice is an expert in early childhood development (ECD) and neurodiversity. She holds an Ed.M. from Harvard University in Human Development and Psychology. She has worked with for the Harvard Center on the Developing Child, Boston Medial Center, The University Teaching Hospital (Zambia), Clinton Health Access Initiative and the Africa Early Childhood Network where she collaborated with organizations including the WHO and UNICEF on matters related to ECD. Matthew is an expert in the fields of innovation, business strategy and the future of education. He holds an M.A. from Stanford University in International Comparative Education. He also holds an M.B.A. from, and later joined the faculty at, ALU / ALX, ranked the most innovative university in the world by Fast Company in 2019, and 37th of all companies. As a management consultant, Matthew has analyzed education and work trends and worked with companies and organizations on company-wide and talent-management strategies. He also previously served as an education advisor for the U.S. State Department and was recognized as an innovation expert by the World Economic Forum. Together, Alice and Matthew bring a thorough understanding of the future of work and society and how to develop our children to prepare them for it.

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