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Superintendents’ Forum: The Future of Work and the Future of Schools

This article was originally published in the Reading Eagle: 

By: Dr. Cathy Taschner, Schuylkill Valley Superintendent
Thursday, October 13, 2022

Few are those who will argue that the world has not changed. We need not look further than our “smart” phones, our “smart” cars, our “smart” rings and our “smart” glasses to know that the world is changing.

Even our homes are becoming “smarter.” The ability to change the temperature, open garage doors, start our appliances, video monitor or even lock and unlock doors without being on-site is now at our fingertips.

While we have likely all, at one time or another, lamented in frustration when a device has been too “smart,” regardless of the technology, regardless of the pace of change, technology is perpetuating a learning demand that arguably is making us all “smarter.”

Notably, the impact of technological advances is not limited to changes in our personal lives. It ischanging and redefining the future of work. Recent reports show that the jobs of the future will introduce a workforce in which robots and humans will begin to coexist.

We have all likely heard about “Rita the Robot” being used in Chili’s restaurants, and according to a recently released report from Markets and Markets, that will not be the only robot we will know.  The collaborative robot or “cobot” market alone is projected to grow from $1.2 billion in 2021 and is expected to reach $10.5 billion by 2027.

In response, a seemingly full redesign of schools removing anything not fully intertwined with math, science and technology might be in order. Debatably, this would ensure that students find relevance and an insertion into a future work world that increasingly is relying on technology. But not so fast!

According to the World Economic Forum’s 2020 “The Future of Jobs” report, the top skills needed to thrive at work in 2025 (and beyond) include analytical thinking and innovation; active learning and learning strategies; complex problem solving; critical thinking and analysis; creativity; leadership and coordinating with others; technology use, monitoring, and control; technology design and programming; resilience; stress tolerance and flexibility; and emotional intelligence…”

Yet somehow, in the midst of chasing test scores and ‘covering’ standards, far too many schools have replaced the rich educational experiences that have been a bedrock in arming students with the top skills needed to be successful in future work, with test prep, memorization, and repetition.

It is encouraging to know that local schools, supported by the Berks County Intermediate Unit, have not followed that trend. This week, I witnessed the profound impact that outdoor education has in preparing students for the future of work.

I watched with pride as a most amazing group of Schuylkill Valley School District middle school teachers, administrators, food service workers, high school students, (and everyone in between) combined efforts to ensure students could participate in multiple days of outdoor education (eighth grade “camp”).

While some might argue time outside the traditional classroom as lost instructional time, there could not have been a better classroom for learning “complex problem solving; critical thinking and analysis; creativity; leadership and coordinating with others; resilience; stress tolerance and flexibility; and emotional intelligence…”. Each of these skills was intricately and inextricably integrated in the experience.

The future of schools will certainly include continued and rigorous study in the applications of science, technology, literacy, and math and each of the associated and related arts. However, the success of schools will undoubtedly be determined by our ability to produce students who are not experts at “knowing” but rather, who are experts at “learning.”

Schools that produce expert learners will be the catalyst for developing citizens who will not only be prepared for the future of work, but who will also keep our great nation at the forefront of innovation.

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