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The new “good” student is an Innovator

Today I was at the CDIO conference and the most inspirational talk by far was the keynote from Tony Wagner, who conveniently sold a few books after the session, also to me 😉

So what did he talk about which was so inspirational most people bought the book. He spoke about what the 21st century student should learn. As he pointed out times are changing. 20% of the students who got an MBA do not have a job, and another 52% works below the capacity level expected of an MBA, with an average debt of 47.000 us dollars. In these circumstances it is a serious issue to find out what is needed to actually find a job.

It also implies our institutions fail to prepare the students for the challenges they have to face in life. We are no longer educating for a career or a number of smaller careers, but we should be preparing our students to be able to create opportunities.

Tony interviewed a number of different stakeholders and came up with a list of skills that each and every student in the 21st century should acquire to be able to survive.

These 7 survival skills are:

  1. Critical thinking skills : being able to ask and formulate the right questions
  2. Collaboration skills: teamwork, deeply understand differences, empathy. Team is Led by peers (not by leaders).
  3. Agility and adaptability skills
  4. Initiative and entrepreneurial skills
  5. Effective oral written communication skills (knowing how to think coherently/write with voice being true or authentic, argue persuasively, with passion and perspective)
  6. Access and information analysis skills
  7. Curiosity and imagination skills

But even these survival skills are not enough. A company wants more;  they want people who are able to create added value to their organisations. More specifically, the market seeks creative problem solvers, implemental innovators, who bring new possibilities to life. Now how would you achieve these objectives in an institution of learning.

Tony asked the successful students who was their most inspirational teacher, who left the biggest stamp on their life. Who created added value for these successful students. And guess what non of these teachers had tenure. They tended to be outliers in their institution and they were able to surprise and disturb the learner. But they were very common in their profiles as outliers, across institutions.

So what did they focus on when teaching students? They focused on:

  • Doing innovation in teamwork/accountable teamwork
  • Exploring the margins of a discipline, where the innovations are likely to be found
  • Interdisciplinary in their approach to learning and innovating teaching
  • Creation as the essence,  not consuming
  •  Trial and error and encouraging students to make/allow for mistakes.
  •  And finally  stimulating intrinsic motivation of students of wanting to make a difference in the world.

But it’s not just the teacher whom prepares students for the 21st century it is also the parents whom allow their children to explore and play, without stuffing them with all kinds of ready to play toys. By allowing their children to find out about their passions and encouraging them to pursue what they are passionate about.

In the end it is these key parameters that should help us to rebuilt education to prepare our students for the 21st century and become the innovators who can make a difference.

Institutions should thus incorporate collaborative learning, freedom to play and explore, have students built up showcase of digital portfolios to demonstrate what they are really proud of having achieved in terms of the 7 survival skills and beyond and integrate these activities in capstone courses.

To learn more about the philosophy read Tony Wagner “The Global Achievement Gap” and “Creating Innovators”.





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