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3 Critical Competencies for the Future - Preparing Students to Thrive in 2020

As described during the proceedings of the 2016 World Economic Forum, we have now entered into the Fourth Industrial Revolution - a time period marked by the fusion of technology and biology. With unprecedented speed, this era has the potential to fundamentally alter the world around us. Whether through autonomous vehicles, Artificial Intelligence (AI), or ubiquitous computing, it promises to change the way we live, work, and interact globally, creating new jobs, new opportunities, and even new forms of government. To succeed in this era, workers will need a new set of skills. Though we have heard this in the past, the Future of Jobs report projects the following list for the year 2020.

Future of Jobs - 2015 vs 2020

This Fourth Industrial Revolution has already begun. It holds the potential to impact and change every facet of life - from education, to society, to politics; and yet, the results of last night's election prove that we, as a society, do not yet understand this conception.

Throughout the political season, one notion has become abundantly clear to me: as educators, we desperately need to focus on our students' future instead of our past. This election has highlighted the desperate need for us to foster three critical competencies in our students if we hope for them to thrive in 2020.

Critical Competency #1 - Media Literacy

LIVE video and social media dominated this election. It turned every citizen into an unfiltered, un-fact-checked reporter of political events. Combined with Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, blogs, and even the major media outlets, technology presented a plethora of biased - and unbiased - views that had neither editing nor filtering.

For years, a growing contingent of educators has advocated for media literacy, digital citizenship, and an introduction of social media into classrooms. This call can no longer be ignored. Our students and citizens need to learn how to analyze and synthesize the disparate views and stories presented by the tidal wave of media now available through televisions, computers, tablets, and phones. We need to learn to critically read, deconstruct, and evaluate information for credibility, validity, and reliability. The onslaught of communications sources will only increase in magnitude in the coming years. As educators, we need to make sure that we can help our students build the critical thinking, reading, and listening skills required to make sense of it all and then make well-informed decisions.

Critical Competency #2 - Computational Thinking

Not to be confused with computer literacy, computational thinking refers to the thought processes and logical systems associated with coding and programming. As early as 1980, Seymour Papert, in his seminal book Mindstorms, writes of the need for the child to program the computer (and not the other way around). To accomplish this goal would imply that the child both understands the machine and its capabilities as well as the problem to solve. Over thirty years later, economists Levy and Murnane called for students to develop the ability to harness the routine computational capabilities of computers to perform non-routine cognitive tasks in Dancing with Robots. Again, this assumes that we not only have fluency and literacy with technology but also an understanding of how to leverage these functional capabilities in novel and adaptive ways.

With funding from the National Science Foundation, Dr. Shuchi Grover, Senior Research Scientist with SRI International, has worked tirelessly over the past few years to help develop computer science curricula with a focus on computational thinking for PS-12 students. In response to the media coverage of the "Comey Letters," Dr. Grover commented that the lack of understanding both of the email situation as well as the ability for the FBI to forensically examine thousands of emails in a matter of days only proves the lack of computational knowledge possessed by most Americans. In fact, a recent study conducted by Google for Education and Gallup showed that while Americans value degrees and jobs in the computer science sector, only about 40% of K-12 schools offer any computer science or computational thinking curricula.

Critical Competency #3 - Empathy

Last week at the EdTechTeacher Innovation Summit in Boston, I shared the list of top skills for 2020 during a few of my sessions. Each time, we discussed the increasing importance of emotional intelligence and empathy. As technology continues to advance, we will have to make ethical decisions about how to use it, how to interact within its parameters, and how to connect with others. Without empathy, we will be unable to truly understand problems, seek out creative solutions, or consider how to support the agency of others.

This morning, in her concession speech, Secretary Clinton encouraged all of us to be inclusive rather than divisive and to empathize with the plight of the various members of our communities.

We've spent a year and a half bringing together millions of people from every corner of our country to say with one voice that we believe that the American dream is big enough for everyone--for people of all races, and religions, for men and women, for immigrants, for LGBT people, and people with disabilities. For everyone.

So now, our responsibility as citizens is to keep doing our part to build that better, stronger, fairer America we seek. 

As educators, beyond instilling academic knowledge and skills in our students, we must develop their media literacy and computational thinking as well as foster their growth as empathetic members of the global community. If we truly want to prepare this country for the economic and societal demands of 2020, then we need to address not just the students who will be walking into our classrooms but also the parents, siblings, neighbors, and community members who may influence their development as citizens.

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