Beyond Education, Learning, and School to Empowerment — through New Beliefs, Real-World Accomplishment, Applied Uniqueness, and Technology & Team Symbiosis.
Giving the World’s 2 Billion Kids the Option They Need
By Marc Prensky, Founder, The Two Billion Kids Project
ALL OVER THE WORLD, the cries for education reform are growing louder. But “reforming education,” will not get us where we want to go, because the world now needs something new. We need to create an equally valuable, side-by-side alternative to our universal “academic education”that better serves 21st c. kids.
THE ALTERNATIVE FOR KIDS AND PARENTS: A POST-EDUCATION-EMPOWERMENT VISION FOR THE FUTURE
The vision and goal of Post-Education-Empowerment is to provide AN ALTERNATIVE PATH FOR RAISING KIDS IN THE 21st CENTURY. Not necessarily for all kids — but rather to offer to parents and young people a new option, and a real choice that they don’t have today.
Today, ALL the so-called choices offered and available to parents and kids — public schools, charter schools, private schools and even private tutors — offer, at their core, the same thing in different ways and qualities, i.e. a 20th century, academic-based education. They have no fundamental differences among them beyond differences of degree and the fashion in which they deliver what I call the “EX-BASICS” and “THE MESS OF DETAILS,” along with various kinds of “ICEing” (Incremental Changes).
Although we may get 20cE done better, or more widely, we will never get from any reform of 20th century Education (20cE) what many of our kids need because what we now have (i.e. EX-BASICS and MESS OF DETAILS) is what the core of “education” is considered to be by almost all. Were we to change it radically so that the experience becomes no longer about the EX-BASICS and the MESS OF DETAILS— but rather about EMPOWERMENT— we would have something quite different. We really do need to call it by another name.
Here I call it, generically, “POST-EDUCATION-EMPOWERMENT.”
BEYOND EDUCATION — TO NEW GOALS, NEW BASICS and NEW ELEMENTS OF EMPOWERMENT
The key differentiator between 20cE and Post-Education-Empowerment lies in its ENDS — the new end is EMPOWERMENT, ACCOMPLISHMENT and IMPACT for kids— NOT just “learning.”
20cE has, as its pillars, the old EX-BASICS of reading and writing and arithmetic and the formerly key “MESS” subjects of Math, English, Science, Social studies — delivered in excruciating detail (hence” The ‘MESS’ OF DETAIL”). Post-Education-Empowerment rests on very different pillars. It rests on NEW BASICS, meeting new needs, and on NEW ELEMENTS OF EMPOWERMENT not found at all in 20cE. These are things that every parent should desire for every child in the 21st-century world.
WHAT IS “BASIC”?
In the 21st century, “the basics” kids need have changed. As reading, writing and arithmetic become universally machine-aided in the 21st c. and beyond, the old “3Rs’ of unaided reading, writing and arithmetic have become “EX-BASICS.” However there are NEW BASICS needed by 21st c. kids, including
- A “NEW ABC LOOP” (Accomplishing useful, positive projects, Bettering your world & Becoming a good, effective, world-improving person, and Continuing to do so)
- Building L.E.G.O. (Love, Empathy, Gratitude, Optimism)
- Building T.R.I.C.K. (Trust, Respect, Independence, Collaboration, and Kindness)
- Preparation for CONTINUOUS and CONSTANT CHANGE.
You can find more detail about these New Basics here.
THE NEW “ELEMENTS OF EMPOWERMENT”
As we provide these New Basics, we must also EMPOWER our 21st century kids — and show them how they can empower themselves . Empowerment comes through:
- ADOPTING NEW, EMPOWERING BELIEFS,
- HAVING, OVER AND OVER AGAIN, POSITIVE EXPERIENCES OF ACCOMPLISHING,
- APPLYING THE UNIQUENESS THAT EACH INDIVIDUAL POSSESSES, and
- BECOMING SYMBIOTIC WITH TEAMS & TECHNOLOGY
Let me here discuss each of these in turn:
- EMPOWERMENT THROUGH NEW BELIEFS
Empowerment is the ability to get things done. There are still some who think that “20c education empowers.” (That is one of their rationales for bringing it to everyone.) The truth is that education did empower — greatly — in the 20th century, before new things arrived. But it no longer does, anywhere near as much. Now what empowers — gets things done — is the combination of new beliefs with technology. The world will not change because more kids get a 20cE. It will change — if and when it does — because kids, before and as as they become adults, do different things. The big change that has taken place in the 21st c. is in young people’s capabilities — i.e. in the age at which they can start doing powerful things. In the 20th century and before, kids, no longer on the farm, couldn’t accomplish much that was useful to the world when they were young (without being sorely exploited.) Kids essentially had no power other than to study — so 20cE was fine for them. Today, and going forward, kids are getting more and more power daily through a combination of both technology and new beliefs. More and more kids already have new technology in their hands, and soon all will have a good amount of it. In order to be empowered, our kids also need powerful beliefs — to change, for example from the belief that “They can’t,” to the belief that “They CAN.” Another needed belief change is as acquiring a “Growth Mindset,” as described by Carol Dweck. There are many more empowering 21st century belief changes already in progress.
2. EMPOWERMENT THROUGH REAL-WORLD ACCOMPLISHMENT
Post-Education-Empowerment, in the 21st century, is all about “real-world accomplishment, with impact.” 20cE was all about “achievement” — making progress, ranking higher, earning prizes — because that was what, in the 20th c., admitted you into higher places. Today this has changed. Going forward, what you know — unapplied — doesn’t matter , nor do your unapplied competencies or skills. What matters is ONLY how you apply what you have to useful tasks. Note that the achievements of 20cE benefitted only the achiever, while accomplishments, in the 21st c., must benefit others as well. Different measurement is also required in an accomplishment world. The relevant metric is no longer grades or honors — it is having a Measurable Positive Impact on some aspect of your world.
3. EMPOWERMENT THROUGH APPLIED UNIQUENESS
With our advance in technology the need for repetitive behavior is going away . Anything that two people can do equally well — from factory work to doctoring or lawyering — is subject to replacement by a machine. The only defense is to become your own unique self. (If no machine can do what you do, they have to use YOU.) The good news is that each person on this planet IS unique in the combination of their dreams, what they care about, what they’re good at, and what they love to do, yet we have not really helped people take advantage of this. 20cE was built around making people the same — giving them the same knowledge and the same skills — so that they could take each other’s place easily, which was necessary in the repetitive “assembly-line” era of the time. As a result 20cE does a terrible job of helping kids figure out and apply their uniqueness — particularly at earlier ages. In fact, it doesn’t really try. But now we must. We should also be watching how each person’s uniqueness evolves over time, so we can suggest fruitful avenues for each person to pursue at each stage. This is one of the strengths of Post-Education-Empowerment.
4. EMPOWERMENT THROUGH TECHNOLOGY & TEAM SYMBIOSIS
In the 21st century, the belief in the strict human-tool distinction of the past is changing rapidly. Many 20th c. adults (i.e those from the “Last Pre-Internet Generation) still view humans as “people with tools” — with the “people” side taking complete priority. Tools may extend the range of human capabilities, but in their view, they are merely things invented and made by people. “People can exist and function to some extent without tools,” they might say, “but the tools cannot function without the people.” They believe there is some “human essence,” of which our tools are only extensions and helpers. This belief, however, is no longer strictly true — think of anything “automatic,” like traffic lights, that function night a day without much need for human intervention. Some of our “tools” have already moved, and function on their own, inside our body.
Far more important, however, than what is happening physically is how we view things — humans are starting to see technology as part of our body — under its own control, at times, but in ways that help us. We, of course help the technology, in terms of upgrades and maintenance. This is what is known as a symbiotic relationship. It is very similar to the one humans have with the trillions of bacteria in our gut and skin. The bacteria (even the ones in our gut) are, in fact, outside our internal, blood-fed body. But they normally act in positive synchronicity with our body, each of us supporting the other.
This symbiosis is what is happening quickly with technology. and humans. Today we put pacemakers, artificial organs, heart and insulin pumps inside our bodies, and keep apps and smartphones outside, but this will quickly evolve. One of our biggest 21st c. needs is to positively and successfully integrate new parts into humans symbiotically, so that our new whole functions better than any of the parts before. This is what is happening, I believe, with kids and their smartphones — which is why if we try to take the devices away and “make the kids 20th c. humans again” we all lose. Our kids are not 20th c. humans — nor should they be. They are 21st century Symbiotic Human Hybrids.
There is also a second kind of symbiosis now happening as well — a symbiosis with other human minds joined together. This is currently manifested as our dependence on teamwork to get things done, but someday soon it may come from neural connections, and/or a so-called “hive mind.”
One of the most important belief changes in the first and future Internet generations is that this “new symbiosis” is a valuable new human trait in the 21st century and beyond. Both technology and newly connected minds are becoming new, integrated, symbiotic parts of humanity.
POST-EDUCATION-EMPOWERMENT: A BROAD OUTLINE OF HOW IT WORKS
- BEYOND “SCHOOLS” — TO “EMPOWERMENT HUBS”
In the Post-Education-Empowerment vision there are no “schools” (i.e. buildings where all kids go every day). Post-Education-Empowerment does not necessarily group kids — as 20cE does — either locally, or by birth date. Nor does it herd kids into what one educator calls “local warehouses.” Instead, kids show up (or check-in) daily at ”Empowerment Hubs,” i.e. “bases” for projects. The kids have opted to be there. They show up because they want to be there. If they don’t, they are back to 20cE.
Every kid opting for a Post-Education-Empowerment experience, rather than a 20cE, belongs to one Empowerment Hub (or more) which can be anywhere in the world. Some Hubs may specialize in particular interests. Some Hubs may be physical, but many will be virtual, and there will be blended combinations.Based at these hubs, kids will do, in ever-changing teams, a continuous series of real-world-impacting projects. Hubs will not have a fixed number of enrollees, as the number of projects each Empowerment Hub hosts can expand and contract over time.
A great name for the hubs — and for all of Post-Education -Empowerment — would be “THE FUTURE.”
Parents would then decide if they want to send their kids to the past (i.e. to 20th c. school) or to THE FUTURE (21st c. Empowerment). Kids could decide as well in which direction, past or future, they want to go. All we need is for enough to choose THE FUTURE — i.e. Post-Education-Empowerment — to make it viable. I see this as highly likely.
Like schools, Empowerment Hubs can be publicly and privately funded. But they cannot be just a different name for the 20th c. schools we have today. The whole point is to have, and differentiate, two distinct equally-valued options for parents and kids. Parents can opt to send their kids to either a school or a Post-Education-Empowerent hub.
What happens in Empowerment Hubs will be radically different from what happens in schools — -it will be all real-world projects. Those kids who opt (or are forced by their parents) to go to 20th c schools will continue to receive our current 20cE (with whatever “ICEing” and reforms educators add). Our 20th c. school buildings will continue to exist (and still be called schools, and still do 20cE) until no one opts for them anymore. That may never happen, because each option — -schools and Hubs — will suit some kids better than others. But but there will be a new choice for parents and kids that is far better than the “academic” ve. “vocational” choices of today. In any field of interest, it will be a choice between “academic learning’ and “real-world accomplishment.”
2. BEYOND INSTRUCTION — TO REAL-WORLD-IMPACTING PROJECTS: THE NEW MEANS
Empowerment Hubs will not see their mission as “learning.” but rather as “having impact” through continuous accomplishment of real-world-impacting projects by teams of kids. While 20cE sees its mission not as accomplishment or impact but as “learning” (and tries to measure only that), Empowerment Hubs will exist to facilitate impactful projects.The metric Empowerment Hubs use will use to assess impact will not be grades or rankings, but Measurable Positive Impact by the kids on some aspect of their world outside themselves.
The processes Empowerment Hubs will employ are various project design and management methodologies, adopted, when necessary, for younger people. There are now several examples of these in the world. One that has proven itself especially effective with young people around the world is FIDS: Feel-Imagine-Do-Share. This is a simple-to-understand design process originally created by Kiran bir Sethi of Design for Change. It has been used for thousands of projects in scores of countries. But Empowerment Hubs can use a variety of project methodologies — including “design sprints,” “hackathons” and more — with the emphasis always on results and impact by kids.
In addition to the design for change projects at DFCWorld a curated selection of world-impacting projects already done by kids, using various methodologies, can be viewed at btwdatabase.org. There is also an excellent model for doing Post-Education-Empowerment in brick-and-mortar public schools at High Tech High in San Diego, CA, USA.
3. BEYOND STUDENTS — TO DREAMERS, IMAGINERS, DOERS
Kids (and their parents) will “opt-in” to Empowerment Hubs (i.e choose to go there). The kids in each Empowerment Hub will not be the random local masses we see in local schools. On the other hand, nor will they be only privileged kids. They will be kids — from anywhere — who have chosen to come there specifically to BECOME EMPOWERED. “Opting-in” is different from “testing in” — as we currently do for some elite school — or from having an “admissions process,” or even from random selection — ALL who opt-in, from anywhere, can start the process somewhere.
The kids who opt-in to Empowerment Hubs will be called DREAMERS, IMAGINERS AND DOERS, because that will be their role. They will NOT be called “students,” because they will not be “studying” — except when needed to get a current project done. From the earliest years they will be continuously doing projects, in teams, that they create to improve their world. (To see a world-improving project done by 3-year-olds, see this video.) Dreamers, Imaginers and Doers will not be encouraged to “do their own work” (as in 20cE) but will work only in teams — which they will form — on projects they create and design themselves, based on common interests and objectives. Teams will be worldwide — even cross-hub — with members from anywhere.
Their projects will be declared complete only when the team can show a Measurable Positive Impact on some aspect of their world. Kids in the Empowerment Hubs will not build up a transcript of grades, but rather a resume of real-world accomplishments. You will be able to ask any kid attending any Empowerment Hub “What is your current project?” and they will tell you with enthusiasm.(If they can’t, they are on the wrong project.) They will be able to point to something real in the world and say “See that, last year it was bad. Now, because of what my team and my project did, it is better.”
There already exist examples of this. Kids who attend such empowering programs as Esther Wojcicki’s journalism program at Palo Alto High School in the U.S.often don’t want to go home at the end of the school day, but work well into the night on their magazine or newspaper publishing projects’ “production crunches” — with the adults also staying late, to guide them.
The reason this works so well is that the task, and work, of all these Dreamers, Imaginers and Doers is to choose projects they want to do, to form into teams with others, and to get the projects done. Their goal is accomplishment — NOT learning. In Empowerment Hubs learning is seen as a means to accomplishing useful things — -NOT as an end in itself. The kids in Empowerment Hubs are imbued with new, empowering beliefs that guide and reinforce their behavior. These beliefs, or mindsets, include that “We can accomplish useful things in the world even while we are young,” that “We learn in order to accomplish,” and “Doing projects we choose and love is the best preparation we can have for becoming a successful adult.”
4. BEYOND TEACHERS — TO EMPOWERERS, ENABLERS, AND COACHES
There are no people called “teachers” in Empowerment Hubs, because there is no set curriculum to “teach.” But there are many dedicated adults — some full-time, some part-time, some volunteer — helping the kids. Every team has at least one dedicated, qualified adult to help them — ideally not one“assigned” to the team but rather one chosen by them. Adults in Empowerment Hubs do not have to hold “teaching qualifications” in the sense that 20cE teachers do. While the ability to work with kids well and safely is required, most of our current teacher qualifications are not needed —and certainly not a college degree in education. The adults in the Empowerment Hubs take on the role of Empowers, Enablers, and Coaches for each of the teams. More complex projects and larger teams may have more than one. Each adult helps guide the team in helpful and productive directions toward its goal. A highly successful existing model of such empowering, enabling and coaching is the FIRST ROBOTICS program started by Dean Kaman, now in the U.S. and around the world.
Being a Empower, Enabler, and Coach in an Empowerment Hub is a different job, in almost every respect, from the job that 20cE teachers currently do. Current 20cE teachers may or may not chose to — or be able to — do it. They can be given the the option to either learn to do it, or to stick with 20cE. There is no curriculum to teach in an Empowerment Hub, only kids and projects to guide. Any adult will be able prepare and qualify for this role, part-time — opening up the job of empowering kids to all qualified people in any field who want to help kids. The job of these adult Empowers-Enablers-Coaches, whether full-time or part-time, will be to guide the teams of kids to accomplishment of real, world-improving projects — in their families, communities, countries and world — projects that all have a Measurable Positive Impact (MPI) on the world they live in.
5. BEYOND THE PAST — TO THE FUTURE
One of the most important differentiators between 20cE and Post-Education-Empowerment is that 20cE is almost entirely about the past. Post-Education-Empowerment is very much about actually building a better future. No one argues that the past is unimportant, yet by focusing only there — as 20cE does — our kids are constrained moving forward. For any parents and kids who think that years of studying our knowledge of the past is necessary to move ahead, there will still be 20cE. But many believe it is possible to distill the past knowledge required by all radically — possibly to a single volume — that all kids can read or listen to, as they move on. This is the goal of my “Nuggets to Remember” project.
IT’S ALREADY BEGUN
The vision of Post-Education-Empowerment has already started to come into being. The first Empowerment Hubs already exist (e.g. The Planet Pilot Empowerment Hub in Europe) and in other places. More and more are in the planning stage.