Education Demands of the Future

By Abel Merawi

Future-EducationJanuary 16, 2020 ( -- The advantages of human beings over animals has been a topic of discussion for generations. While some believe it is because humans are made by the image of the creator, others believe it is because we have developed intellectual abilities through the evolutionary process. Recently, scholars such as Francis Fukuyama argued that it is not the individual abilities of human beings but rather the collective experiences and abilities of humans that helped us dominate the world. Our collective experience and knowledge remains available for all human beings across space and time because of language. This unique ability of communication has led to formal education. Society depends on education to guarantee its existence across generations. In other words, we teach our children our collective moral values, past experiences, innovations, present challenges, and future aspirations through language. Thus, the curriculum is expected to evolve as society changes so as to meet the demands of the present and future. In the 21st century, thanks to technological and scientific advancements, the world is rapidly changing. The educational system we follow is also expected to change with the same tempo, but it seems to be stuck at some past period. Despite the fact that it is difficult to encompass every related issue, let us focus on the main aspects of the present and future with the intent of finding the appropriate educational demands of our times.     

Until recent times, the expectations of the society from workers were mostly related to agriculture, industry, trade and social issues. This led to specialization or expertise in a single area of study. This was beneficial to both the individual and the society, especially because it provided permanency of personal gain to the worker and consistent provision of services and goods for the society. For instance, a trader can buy goods from farmers or producers and provide it to customers with the confidence that it is a trade that will exist forever, or at least until he dies. However, the current technological advancements have made online trading possible, which makes the vast majority of traders unnecessary. The availability of online markets like Amazon have helped avoid the extra cost on the customer by getting rid of numerous middlemen. Similar changes are occurring in most professions, which require the workers to constantly adapt to the changes. Accordingly, the education of children has to prepare students for such a future by shifting the focus from specialization to multitasking that demands creativity.  

Education has been mostly related to providing information because it was considered important for students to remember them. The availability of information depends on the media of communication. Until recently, most information was accessible through writing and print. Since it was difficult to possess and easily access important writings, teachers were required to help students memorize the most vital information. For this reason, most school hours were dedicated to communicating information and examinations aimed at the recollection of information. Technological advancements in recent decades have made information abundantly accessible. For instance, students can have soft copies of important literary works on their computers and mobile phones. Not only is the information easily accessible but it is also available in various formats: Text, audio, and video formats. Thus, filling the minds of students with information is not the most important aspect of education. Nevertheless, accessing information easily does not necessarily mean people know what to do with it. For this reason, education should focus on creativity and autonomous thinking in order to make sense of and benefit from all the information.

A discussion on education can only be completed by learning from the ideas of the great thinker, John Dewey. In his 1916 work, ‘Democracy and Education: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Education,’ Dewey states, “all which the school can or need do for pupils … is to develop their ability to think.”  Since thinking is the unique feature of human beings, the primary focus of education must be to develop the minds of learners. Our curriculum focuses not on thinking but on habit formation because learners are presented with the solution without going through the process of thinking that brought about the solution. In other words, teachers do the thinking for students and expect them to develop only habitual actions. When skills are learned devoid of their purpose, they become habits rather than products of thinking. Mere information loaded on the mind is a burden on the mind because it is detached from thoughtful action. Dewey said it well when he stated, “Thinking is the method of intelligent learning, of learning that employs and rewards mind.” The mind of children is not a tabula rasa or empty slate, as was traditionally assumed, to be filled with information. We should recognize that the mind is an active part of all of us that confronts challenges and gets a reward from solving them through thinking.

The way we teach students affects their development since every educational approach leads to a different outcome. According to recent studies, the teaching approach required for promoting intelligent learning is called problem-based learning (PBL). Although space limits me from discussing every feature of PBL, I will attempt to briefly show its basic elements. The challenges we face every day are not distinctly labeled as biology, chemistry, history or language. They encompass various areas, and solving them requires a holistic knowledge of things. For instance, when I get into an argument about the dangers of a certain factory, I use geography for the environmental dangers, I use history and sociology for the impact on the community, or I may use biology and chemistry to deal with the dangers of the actual product. Thus, I am required to know various subjects and use my mind to see the complete picture. The use of PBL in schools is a way of presenting challenges to students in an authentic and holistic manner. This makes students understand the benefit of education as it helps them use their critical thinking ability to find solutions for real problems. Professor Howard Gardner of Harvard University describes intelligence as the ability to solve problems in one’s particular context and culture. Since 21st-century education aims at developing intelligence, students must be immersed in solving holistic and authentic problems.  

When we think of our role in the future, we should not see ourselves as passive recipients but as active agents that have a say in it. As the saying goes in Silicon Valley, “we don’t predict the future; we invent it”. Thus, education should not just prepare students for the predictable future; it should help them use their minds to become the architects of the future. It is essential that we encourage individual variations because creativity resides in a free and autonomous thinking. As Dewey states, “A progressive society counts individual variations as precious since it finds in them the means of its own growth. Hence a democratic society must, in consistency with its ideal, allow for intellectual freedom and the play of diverse gifts and interests in its educational measures.” With a promise of treating specific issues related to education in the future, I end my writing by stressing that the future demands creative thinkers that can shape the future, and an education that understands this need is a prerequisite.


Abel Merawi is Addis Ababa-based contributor for He can be reached through this form.

Other articles by Abel Merawi:

Job Security, Life and the Unpredictable Future

The Shift From Racism to Culturism

Sacrificing Meaning for Power?

Culture and Market Forces

Intersubjective Reality

Seeking Cosmic Justice

National Myths: Makers and Destroyers of Nations

Are We Truly Free?

Maturity: The Prerequisite to Freedom and Democracy

Loyalty to Truth, Not to Group

The Value of Work

The Flaws with Ethiopian Political System

Intellectuals and the People

Where Are Our Pathfinders?

The Allegory of the Cave and Its Lessons to Leaders

The Truth Behind Humanity

The Seven Virtues

The Seven Deadly Sins

What is the right thing to do?

Building National Identity

Adey Abeba and the Spirit of Change

Mob Violence

Living the Truth as a Human Being

Hubris - The Tragedy of Not Learning from Others

The Era of Group Mentality: Us vs Them

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