I often do that age-old adult shtick of asking my kids what they want to be when they grow up. Somedays, they’re pretty traditional with their answers. Policeman. Fire fighter. Dentist. Somedays, they’re more creative. Tattoo artist. Boxer. Tongue salesman. But as I listen to their little voices rattle off ideas, there’s a voice in my head answering: their future professions haven’t even been imagined yet.
We are living through a global transformation. The Fourth Industrial Revolution is beginning and it means preparing our children – and our provincial economy – for a future that’s hard to imagine.
Predicting the future has never been a sure bet. Earlier this week, fellow columnist David Campbell reminded us of several opportunities that, 10 years ago, seemed poised to launch in New Brunswick and promised powerful positive economic impacts for the province. None of them happened, really. His colleague Richard Saillant calls it our ‘lost decade.’ Campbell questions what the next decade will bring, and whether we will continue to slip further away from economic sustainability.
His column was printed alongside one from New Brunswick’s NDP Leader Jennifer McKenzie, in which she outlined her campaign promise to eliminate tuition fees at NBCC/CCNB, eliminate interest on student loans for New Brunswickers, and several other post-secondary education initiatives.
McKenzie wants to ensure young people see themselves with a future in New Brunswick. So do I; in fact, I believe all political parties and residents agree on that as a necessary priority for the province. But I worry that we’re already too late when it comes to simple solutions, such as waiving tuition. Having that program in place a decade ago might have helped; now, I think we better serve our future by focusing on adjusting our education policies to better prepare our youth for life in a world with increasing automation, artificial intelligence, and globalization.
We have a world-class leader in that, right here at home. Armand Doucet is one of six internationally recognized educators who have collaborated on a book about teaching during the start of the Fourth Revolution. If we are truly to find ways to prepare our children for the future – a future that includes wanting to live in New Brunswick and helping propel this province forward – then we need to be supporting innovative ideas much earlier than high school graduation.
To put this in some context: one of the other teachers/authors writing with Doucet, Belgium’s Koen Timmers, leads international collaborations between students and teachers. Tomorrow, April 16, children ages eight to 21 from 80 different countries across six continents will meet via Skype for The Innovation Project. Timmers believes students should learn from each other, speaking directly with those who are experiencing complex issues such as access to drinking water and development of sustainable communities, rather than “outdated textbooks.”
If textbooks are already outdated, how long until the traditional structures of education are realized as that, too? In 10 years, the expectations of students will have changed greatly when it comes to their needs for higher education. The lure of free tuition will not be enough to make New Brunswick competitive on a global or even national stage.
What will set us apart is creating an educational environment in which all children feel empowered to explore their creativity and are confident in their own critical thinking skills. We can’t predict the future, but we know it’s changing rapidly and we don’t want to be left behind. We must invest in innovative education, proper mental health support, and early intervention programs that can create a foundation of informed, engaged youth who can envision themselves in New Brunswick, free tuition or not.