What is a Suitable Education?
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Future & Skills

The knowledge economy is dead so why are our schools still flogging it?

Tony Wagner, educational expert (with many years of experience of hands on teaching and many more at Harvard), says schools are obsolete

“We still talk about a knowledge economy and the need for knowledge workers but that was a term Peter Drucker coined in 1959. We no longer have a knowledge economy. Knowledge has become a commodity. Free like air, like water. Growing exponentially, changing constantly, available on every internet connected device. There is no longer a competitive advantage in knowing more than the person next to you because they’re going to Google it and figure it out just in time.

And so. The whole idea that school should be about transmitting academic content knowledge primarily, or even exclusively we think is fundamentally obsolete.”

Tony Wagner, currently a Senior Research Fellow at the Learning Policy Institute, has held a variety of positions over twenty years at Harvard University. As well as the ten years co-directing the Change Leadership Group at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, which he founded, he was also the Expert in Residence at the Harvard Innovation Lab for four years. Prior to this he taught in high school for 12 years, was a principal, a university professor in teacher education and founding executive director of Educators for Social Responsibility.

His book, ‘The Global Achievement Gap: Why Even Our Best Schools Don’t Teach the New Survival Skills Our Children Need – and What We Can Do About It’, says that children need the following seven skills:
1. Critical thinking and problem-solving
2. Collaboration across networks and leading by influence
3. Agility and adaptability
4. Initiative and entrepreneurialism
5. Effective oral and written communication
6. Accessing and analysing information
7. Curiosity and imagination

Curiosity and imagination are what drive innovation and are key to problem solving. “We’re all born curious, creative and imaginative,” says Wagner. “The average four-year-old asks a hundred questions a day. But by the time that child is 10, he or she is much more likely to be concerned with getting the right answers for school than with asking good questions.”

“In today’s highly competitive global knowledge economy, all students need new skills for college, careers, and citizenship. To fail to give all students these new skills leaves today’s youth-and our country-at an alarming competitive disadvantage. Schools haven’t changed; the world has. And so our schools, then, are not failing. They are obsolete-even the ones that score the best on standardised tests-which is a very different problem requiring an altogether different solution.”


Tony Wagner has been involved in making films about education, including Sundance winner ‘Most Likely to Succeed’. His most recent book by the same name, ‘Most Likely to Succeed Preparing Our Kids for The Innovation Era,’ is focused on what we can do going forward.

Tony Wagner
Reinventing Education for the 21st Century : Tony Wagner at (co)lab summit 2013

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