Why ‘Back to Basics’ is a Really Bad Idea

The school your kid goes to will look nothing like the one you attended

We all know the world is changing – fast. In my lifetime we’ve gone from computers the size of an office building with barely the brainpower of a pocket calculator – to phones containing all the world’s knowledge, plus a camera plus a music player. 

Because so much around us is moving, the information we learn gets outdated really fast. In fact, according to the World Economic Forum, if you learn a skill today, that skill is out of date within three years. 

Think about what that means for education, for a moment. 

It means that if you learn something in the first year of a four-year university degree, it’s outdated before you graduate. It also means that a third of the skills that you will need to do your job in the year 2020, you will need to learn between now and then.

That has two pretty big implications for the way we educate kids. First, it means that we need to find better ways of skilling people up more quickly. And second, it means that we all have to be committed to learning for our whole lives. 

It’s not enough to get a four-year degree and coast on that knowledge for your career. The world doesn’t work like that anymore. 

The ‘fourth revolution’
New technologies like quantum science, cybersecurity, the internet of things, big data, nanotechnology, additive manufacturing, and autonomous and connected systems are moving our world into a new age of intelligence. 

Klaus Schwab, the CEO of the World Economic Forum, calls this new age the “fourth industrial revolution,” which he says is “characterized by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital and biological spheres.”

That’s a fancy way of saying that everything is changing. 

If your dad had a job building cars on a GM assembly line, your manufacturing job will look nothing like his. If your parents had a farm when you were growing up, your farm will look nothing like theirs. 

And the school your kid goes to will look nothing like the one you attended. 

Today’s classrooms are administered by powerful Learning Management Systems (or LMSes, for short) that track individual student performance, create customized assessment tools and help deliver learning right to a student’s phone. And an LMS can also use Artificial Intelligence to predict what kind of learning will work best for students. If a student learns by gaming, the system uses gaming to teach the student. If the student learns best through reading, the system uses reading assignments. 

Computing power has become so advanced that even in a large classroom of 20 to 30 students, teachers have the ability to create highly individualized learning plans for each student. 

Which is good. Because it is necessary.

About 60 percent of all jobs are made up of activities that can be automated. In other words, not only do skills expire quickly, machines take away many of the tasks are part of our everyday work, now. 

Change is happening exponentially. 

Technology is radically altering the way and speed at which we work. The Fourth Industrial Revolution is changing every interaction and behavior in the workforce. 

Which is why, when you hear politicians saying things like “we need to get back to basics,” you should be very, very afraid. 

Because basic math, or science, or language skills aren’t what we need. That’s barely the ground floor in the world of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. 

What we need are learners and thinkers. People who are quick, highly adaptable and prepared to continue learning over the long haul. 

In China right now, Artificial Intelligence is a mandated part of the curriculum from junior kindergarten to university – because they know where the world is headed. 

The last thing Canadian kids need is a return to long rows of desks with kids looking at blackboards and reciting conjugated French verbs like we’re living in Little House on the Prairie

We don’t need to go back to basics – we need to push forward, and fast. 

Or our kids are going to get left behind. 


  • Lloyd Rang works in communications and is a member of Rehoboth CRC in Bowmanville.

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