A sign of the time

Thomas L Friedman, author and columnist for the New York Times was in Sydney last week for a ‘dialogue on global trends’.  He has co-authored a  book  That Used to Be Us to be published soon.

In it, he identifies four major challenges for the US, which I believe are also applicable to Australia. These are adjusting to the IT revolution, adjusting to globalisation, managing chronic deficits and energy and climate.

As always, Friedman makes some astute observations about
our world and America’s response to the rapid changes.
When he wrote The World is Flat in 2004, there was no
hint of Facebook, Twitter or the Cloud.  Friedman says
today’s world is no longer connected but hyper-
connected
.

Friedman contends that one of the solutions to the challenges facing America is education.  Not the same industrial model of schooling where being average was OK but an education that strives for above average.  According to Friedman, the age of average is over in this hyper-connected world of two billion aspiring citizens.

Technology has done many things including expanding the pool of employees. Employers can now select from a pool of above average candidates.  Last year, there were seven million university graduates in China.  What will separate
them from the university graduates from Australia, America or Singapore?   Their schooling experience.  The prosperity of nations will depend according to Dan Pink on how well we develop our right brain aptitudes – critical thinking, creativity, empathy, story telling etc.  The very things that education systems like ours haven’t made a priority.

According to Friedman, the countries that will succeed in a hyper-connected world are the ones he refers to as HIE – high imagination enabling countries.  Everything in our global economy is a commodity except, he says, ideas.  Ideas and innovation can’t be outsourced or automated – it is the new currency.

This and future generations of learners will be tasked with solving our global challenges.  Challenges that our generation hasn’t been able to find creative solutions to.  If active citizenship is one of the greatest responsibilities of today’s learners, then ours is to re-imagine schooling.  It demands a courageous cultural and intellectual shift in the face of competing narratives and ideologies.

When we look back at our education systems in 10,15 or 20 years, will we say that used to be us or will we have responded imaginatively to the signs of the times? No matter where you go in the world the story is the same. The answers to what we need to do with schooling lies in the future and the decisions we make today.

There is no better example of this than what is unfolding in the US. Policy paralysis is the norm in Congress as both sides of politics refuse to understand that the game has changed. No longer can you defend a position on ideological grounds and maintain existing positions ie find the solutions they need to address the economic crisis they face.

While they show a singular lack of leadership, education policy stagnates and denies them the very thing they now need – an innovative, creative and imaginative schooling system with graduates who can both re-imagine and rethink the solutions to tomorrow’s challenge.

Listen to Friedman or ignore him at your peril!


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