Education for the Future – Which Skills Will Be Essential for 2050?

With technology developing faster than ever, the world of working is changing too. In order to keep up with the challenges of the future, education must adapt to the new environment. But which changes are necessary, and which skills will be essential for the next 30 years? In an interview with Kolbrún Pálsdóttir I wanted to find out how the world of education will have to change in the next three decades, in a world with artificial intelligence, automation, and evolving technology. 

The role of non-formal education

Kolbrún Þorbjörg Pálsdóttir,
Kolbrún Þorbjörg Pálsdóttir,

Kolbrún Pálsdóttir is Dean of the School of Education at the University of Iceland in Reykjavik and does research on formal and non-formal education. Pálsdóttir describes non-formal learning as, “all the learning that we experience both in daily life and also in structured programmes like outer school programmes, youth activities, etc. etc”.  Given that people start learning very early in their lives, they first experience non-formal education, and that is paramount until they start going to school and get introduced to formal education.

However, adults keep learning in non-formal ways, as Kolbrún Pálsdóttir states: “Non-formal learning offers young people, students, and people of all ages the possibility to be real participants in their own learning.

Due to their “intrinsic drive to learn”, using all of their capabilities and sensory-motor skills to learn new things and get information, many appreciate non-formal education, which makes lifelong learners out of them.

“It kind of happens everywhere”, she points out, when asked about the way non-formal education takes place. The Dean believes that the combination of formal and non-formal education is very important and that, “We need to be aware of it to make better use of it and to connect it to formal learning.”

The education of the future ?
The education of the future?

Increasing the use of technology in an educational context

 During the last past few months, Kolbrún Pálsdóttir has detected many changes at educational institutes in their ways of teaching and increasing the use of technology for educational purposes:

“We have fast-forwarded like a decade, at least.”

She believes that there will be many more ways of making use of technology and that with its help new doors could be opened. “I am also hopeful that we can use this opportunity to really explore, how has it gone, what has been successful and what do we really want to keep in the system and in our ways of working”, Pálsdóttir adds.

Both directions of education
Both directions of education

“Education is a reciprocal relationship”

Pálsdottir thinks the involvement of students in the learning process is key to a successful education, since “Education is a reciprocal relationship between an individual and a teacher, his fellow students and the whole environment”.

In her eyes, this “just opens up a whole new level of possibility for interaction, for sharing data, for collaboration, both on a local and international level”. Although Kolbrún Pálsdóttir recognises that the difficult times of Corona have been a crisis, she emphasizes that people should “look at the silver linings” too.

“Young people are very often a bit ahead of their time”

 According to her, technology could improve the educational situation of students from poorer or undereducated backgrounds; however it could also hinder since not all families have access to the same technology.

Pálsdóttir points out that that “technology is a tool, with the means to an end” and that it’s all about how it is used.

At the same time, technology shouldn’t be used all the time.

She believes that “There’s a world out there, that I think the school needs to connect to, and they do it through the students, by allowing the use of technology, social media, and the various tools that technology offers.”

The Dean stresses that it is important to keep the focus on the content rather than the technology behind it and that, “We need to teach people how to use technology and also to be reflective about the possible pitfalls”.

Furthermore, talking about technology in the classroom, one should be aware of the huge word it is: “We could be talking about social media, computers, the world wide web, etc. etc.”

How the education of the future is going to look like?
How the education of the future is going to look like?

Essential skills for the future

When asked about important skills for the future, Kolbrún Pálsdóttir answers with “literacy”. “Being able to, collect data, read, understand, reflect, analyse, interpret, and make use of the information around us” is one of the most significant skills one should acquire in order to be ready for the coming decades.

Besides that, she mentions the soft skills, which are often referred to as the “21st century skills”, like creativity, critical thinking, communication skills, and collaboration skills, all of great importance, too.

“We can get all kinds of information, but how valid is it? How do we know if the sources are reliable, and do we have the judgment to differentiate between false information and reliable information?” Pálsdóttir asks.

According to her, that is the point where education comes in, and why it is so important to be able to analyse, be critical, and reflect. “It’s not only a question of being able to use all the tools and know-how to gather the evidence or data or information.

We need to be able to process it and reflect on it and make meaning from it.”

Teaching skills
Teaching skills

Teaching skills

Kolbrún Pálsdóttir sees the role of education in making people more capable and reaching their full potential. As this is a really complex project, “It’s really important that we think about education in this holistic sense that’s it the responsibility of the whole society to educate its citizens”.

This is essential in order to provide the people with the conditions to flourish as individuals and get the skills to educate themselves.

While new technologies and modern ways of teaching can help a lot in the educational process, Pálsdóttir is sure that, “We also need to look a little bit back, look at how the school has developed and how the educational system has changed and learned from that.

The goal of education has not changed since the early days when Aristotle had his idea of education, enabling people to become more human and develop their capabilities”, according to the Dean of the School of Education at the University of Iceland in Reykjavík: “Sometimes it’s also good to go back to basics.”

We always need to be inventive
We always need to be inventive

“We always need to be inventive”

Although we live in a nearly fully digitalized world, with knowledge at our fingertips, she does not think memorizing things are or will be obsolete in the future. However, it will not be the essence of what will be taught at school: “We are training ourselves to analyze, get information, and data process it.”

On the other hand, Pálsdóttir highlights that different types of approaching challenges are always important. “I would not like my children only to learn on computers, I would like them to learn to write, and actually I would also like them to draw and to act and to sing and to prepare food.

From her point of view, most parents like their children to experience a range of activities, “both inside the school system and also in the non-formal activities”. In order to find solutions to the huge challenges of our time, the climate and the CoViD-19 crisis, the involvement of young people and creativity are essential, in her opinion:

“We always need to be inventive, we are trying to make the world a better place, we are always facing new kinds of obstacles. Arriving at creative solutions is obviously the key.”

More articles from the same author read here and here. 

Photos: Shutterstock/ Edited by Nevena Saulic

More articles on the future of skills and education here:

Iceland – Future Skills for Workplace Sustainability

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