Re-imagining education: the best bet for the future

09 Mar 2017 |

In the weeks since Donald Trump’s election to the presidency, I’ve visited college campuses and spoken with young people searching for ways to make our world a more compassionate, collaborative place.

I’ve encouraged them to channel their energy into working with children — because I don’t believe there is a path to a better future unless all of us commit to making sure students are given the education and support they need to improve their communities and their lives.

Not only do we need to continue to fight for equitable outcomes for children around the world, but we also have to rethink what all children are actually learning. Currently, most school systems teach children a narrow set of academic disciplines, such as reading and math. These are important but insufficient. Today’s students will have to make a living in a global economy that’s likely to be even more difficult to navigate than it is now, as more and more jobs are lost to technology and automation. And they will need to be able to collaborate and work together, solve complex problems and possess values like empathy and tolerance, to put the world on a more peaceful and sustainable path than the one we’re on now.

We need to re-imagine education for all kids, and this is especially true for the world’s most disenfranchised young people. In the U.S., fewer than one in 10 kids from low-income communities will graduate from college, still the gateway to a decent living. Around the world, 120 million children aren’t attending school at all, while another 330 million are in school but aren’t actually learning.

Children in these situations undoubtedly face the greatest risks from an increasingly turbulent economy.

But equipped with an education that can draw out their strengths and provide necessary extra supports, their resiliency and life experiences also give them great potential to lead us to a future that is more inclusive and just.

Through my role as the CEO of Teach For All, I’ve had the chance to meet educators who are on the forefront of teaching the kinds of values and skills that enable young people to fulfill their potential and become leaders.

Last year I visited Global Teacher Prize winner Kiran Bir Sethi, who founded the Riverside School in Ahmedabad, India, 15 years ago. From a very young age, alongside studying traditional subjects like math and language, students are asked about, and exposed to, problems in their community and are expected to work together to develop and implement solutions. From taking to the streets to talk with adults about the harms of child labor, to carrying out house-to-house recycling campaigns, to starting a program to teach parents who are illiterate to read and write, young people at Riverside develop a deep sense of empathy and learn that they have the power to change the world around them.

In Latvia, Global Teacher Prize finalist Dana Narvaiša, also an alumna of the Latvian partner of Teach For All, worked with students and parents to create and build the Cēsu Jaunā school. Its primary aim is to encourage students to become leaders, so from a very early age the children design and lead the school — deciding on the layout of their classrooms, organizing events with the community and even working with teachers to plan their lessons.

And in schools in more than a dozen countries around world — from the U.S. to Pakistan, Jordan to India — more than a million students have developed real and lasting bonds through meeting and talking via “virtual exchanges” organized by a nonprofit called the Global Nomads Group.

These exchanges break down stereotypes, build a sense of empathy for people from other countries and backgrounds, and foster a sense of citizenship among young people from all walks of life.

These are just a few of many examples that show what’s possible. There is still much to learn about how to set up students to lead empowered, empathetic lives. My greatest hope is that the current generation of college graduates will respond to the rising tides of isolationism, prejudice and economic distress by working to ensure today’s children can experience the support and education that prepares them to shape a more peaceful and sustainable world.

Wendy Kopp is CEO and Co-founder of Teach For All — the global network of 40 independent organizations cultivating their nations’ promising future leaders.

These are the views of the author and do not necessarily reflect any official position of the Varkey Foundation.