This is the age of acceleration, a speeding-up of human experience through the impact of disruptive forces on every aspect of our lives.
It is also a time of political contestation. For the last 72 years, the wider international community has prioritized balancing the needs and interests of individuals, communities, and nations in an equitable framework based on open borders, free markets, and a sustainable future. But where the disruptive forces of these changes have brought a sense of dislocation, political forces have emerged that offer closed borders, protection of traditional jobs, and the promise to put the interests of today’s generation over those of future generations.
How should countries equip young people to understand, engage with, and shape this changing world?
In this accelerated, politicized age, we can no longer teach people for a lifetime. In this age, education needs to help students cultivate a reliable compass and other navigational tools with which they may find their own way through an increasingly complex and volatile world.
Future jobs will pair computer intelligence with human knowledge, skills, character qualities, and values. It will be our capacity for innovation, our awareness, our ethical judgement and our sense of responsibility that will equip us to harness machines to shape the world for the better.
This is the main conclusion drawn by OECD countries working on Education 2030, a new framework for curriculum design. Not surprisingly, then, schools must increasingly recognize the need for fostering ethics, character, and citizenship. They must also develop in their students a range of social and emotional skills, such as empathy, compassion, mindfulness, purposefulness, responsibility, collaboration, and self-regulation.
At the center of the Education 2030 framework, OECD countries have placed creating new value, dealing with tensions and dilemmas, and developing responsibility as desired competencies. What do these mean? And how are they connected to ethics, and to social and emotional skills?
Young people’s agency to shape the future will partly hinge on their capacity to create new value. Creating new value is a transformative competency. It refers to the processes of creating, making, bringing into being, and formulating. It imagines outcomes from these processes that are innovative, fresh, original, and contribute something of intrinsic positive worth. It suggests entrepreneurship in the broadest sense—being ready to venture, to try, without the crippling anxiety of failure. The constructs, attributes, and virtues that underpin this competency are imagination, inquisitiveness, persistence, collaboration, and self-discipline.
Dealing with tensions, dilemmas, and trade-offs will also be necessary for young people in the age to come. In a structurally imbalanced world it is necessary for them to reconcile diverse perspectives and interests in local settings that sometimes have global implications. Striking the balance between competing demands—of equity and freedom, autonomy and community, innovation and continuity, and efficiency and democratic process—will rarely lead to a simple choice or even a single solution. Individuals will need to think in a more integrated way that avoids premature conclusions and attends to interconnections. The constructs, attributes, and virtues that underpin the competence include empathy, adaptability, and trust.
The third transformative competency—developing responsibility—is a prerequisite of the other two. Dealing with novelty, change, diversity, and ambiguity assumes that individuals can “think for themselves” with a robust moral compass. Both creativity and problem-solving require the capacity to consider the future consequences of one’s actions, to evaluate risk and reward, and to accept accountability for the products of one’s work.
These, in turn, require a sense of responsibility, and also moral and intellectual maturity. With these, people can reflect upon and evaluate their actions in the light of their experiences, their personal and societal goals, what they have been taught and told, and what is right or wrong.
Ethics is the thoughtful perception of what is right or wrong, good or bad, in a specific situation. It asks questions related to norms, values, meanings, and limits. Central to this competency is the concept of self-regulation, in the spheres of personal, interpersonal, and social responsibility. It rests on constructs, attributes, and virtues of self-control, self-efficacy, responsibility, problem-solving, and adaptability.
The challenge for educators is not to defer these dimensions to new school subjects, but to embed them in everything that is taught and learned at school. Supporting countries in this effort is the goal of the OECD Education 2030 project.