Q (O Globo, Brazil, 2017): In your lectures and articles, you talk about changing education purposes, creating a new curriculum. How do we prepare teachers for this? Are they ever going to be prepared for this transformation?
PRENSKY: How do you prepare any people for the fact that what they are doing has suddenly become obsolete? It’s a big problem, but not one unique to teachers. Factory workers have the same issue, as do even farmers. Their job has changed.
In the case of teachers—whom we task with raising our kids while we work—we need to see them—and they need to see themselves—not as “content providers” (that is the part that is dying), but as people who have chosen the role of helping our kids realize their dreams in a new environment. Teachers often complain when we talk about the “people” side of their job, rather than the “content” side, but that is all that counts—and now it counts more than ever. As parents we trust our teachers to help our kids go as far as they can in the world—not in the academic world but in the real one.That means getting to know each kid intimately and helping him or her figure out their unique strengths and passions and apply them to making their world a better place. For the kid, that means having coaches who see their job as empowering you to take your own dreams seriously and to work hard—not at a prescribed set of content, but at projects that increase your skills and capacities and help the world.
So teachers need to understand that they are now going to be asked to do as a new, different job. They will still do it with children, but what they do with them will be very different. Many already understand this role, becuase they do it in after-school programs. But they probably all need to be re-certified. The “name” of the job should probably change as well. We don’t need “teachers” any more in our schools, although informal “teaching” will go on everywhere. You Tube has already taken over that role to a huge extent. But we do need coaches and empowerers for our kids. We need to gradually swap people doing the old job, for those doing the new, allowing and enabling those who choose to take on the new role to do so.
Q (O Globo, Brazil, 2017): You created the terms digital native and digital immigrant. We can use them to understand the generational gap we live, especially in the classroom. Now that we have the world changing in an ever-accelerating manner, the generational gap will not always be there? Even in a future where students and teachers are considered digital natives.
Things will always evolve, but what is important to understand is how much the environment has recently changed, and how much our individual relationship with machines and technology has grown, and what this means for the rest of our lives.Those — young or old — who don’t accept these changes are people from a different era. Nothing ever totally fades away, and there will always be people with old perspectives, but new things, relationships and attitudes are becoming dominant.
Q (O Globo, Brazil, 2017): Teachers are no longer the only knowledge holder in classroom. They would be mediators of the process of student's learning, say some educators. What is the teacher's role in the educational model you propose?
It is the concept of “knowledge holding” that is irrelevant and increasingly meaningless – that’s precisely the issue. What is relevant is only whatever knowledge is required to accomplish a particular task — a task that makes the world a better place. If the task is very specific and complicated, such as sending a rocket into space, a lot of specialized knowledge needs to be applied. If the task is more general — e.g helping people on a crisis hot line — a lot more general knowledge of people is required. The teacher is now becoming a coach and empowerer (which is why renaming would be good). They must help each kid search inside themself for what he or she needs, and yearns for most, and then they help provide it, though pointing teach kids to relevant projects and roles.
Q (O Globo, Brazil, 2017): Would it make sense to divide students in classes by age in this educational model?
Not always. Grouping “by date of manufacture” is a convenient, but not always useful way to group people into effective teams. Better to do it by their interests and passions. Would any team in a workplace setting be composed only of people born in a single year? Sal Khan’s Lab School in San Francisco groups kids by ability, not age.
Q (O Globo, Brazil, 2017): Are there good examples of schools that already follow paths similar to your proposals?
The danger in pointing out examples is that those places become like Finland, with people tramping through every second. The people who run them would develop huge hubris about their ideas. (like the Finns have done) when those ideas are just experiments at this stage.Education is now one of the world’s biggest experiemnts, since so much has changed.
What I can say is that there are thousands of first steps in these directions in the world – some in entire schools, but most most as individuals doing things in new ways. Not a single one of the schools that are moving in this direction is “perfect” or 100 percent—but that’s the point. Each must do it in their own way. And this is key for everyone to understand: In a time of fast change, there are no “best practices” to emulate—only “good practices and the need to invent better ones.” Every place must invent their own approach—in partnership with their kids—with these simple principles in mind:
- Empowerment of all kids to accomplish in the real-world
- Enabling and encouraging kids to Better Their World while they are still students.
- Key skills of Effective Thinking, Effective Action, Effective Relationships and Effective Accomplishment for all. Not in the MESS (math. language, science, social studies) but in whatever area they are interested in.
Q (O Globo, Brazil, 2017): There are some groups of parents - in different parts of the world that opt for what they call unschooling: they take their children out of school and let they learn freely, not in a homeschool system. In recent times, I've even heard another term, worldschooling: parents that take their children out of school to travel with them around the world indefinitely, so they learn that way. What is your opinion about this?
Kids do best at realizing their own dream when they have effective adult guidance. That guidance can come in many ways — ideally the way best suited to the child (and not the parent). Parents, like teachers, often take too much control over their kid in areas that they shouldn’t. “Our kids are not pets” is the title of a book I am writing. Unless it is a matter of safety, the kids need to have a big say, with good guidance, in how and where their education takes them.
Q (O Globo, Brazil, 2017): What can parents do today at home to compensate the fact that school is not educating children for the 21st century well?
There are three questions I think every parent should encourage their kid to think about — not just once, but on a regular basis: (1) What problems do I see in the world that I particularly care about? (2) What are my personal strengths that could be applied to addressing those problems?, and (3) what do I love to do? When those three thing come together, you get a highly-motivated person who will likely accomplish a lot.
Q (O Globo, Brazil, 2017): In one of your presentations, you say that we should not focus on content, but rather on real-world problems.Children themselves would bring the solutions. But isn't life experience fundamental to point out solutions to problems? Children didn't have time to learn from their own mistakes, right?
Wrong. This is a huge myth. The U.S. Military has all its officers read “Enders Game” a book about a kid who — without the baggage of experience — comes up with a solution that none of his elders could. Experience can be useful, but there is no guarantee that the lessons people take from their experience are the right, or the most useful ones. Kids need to be shown how to trust their creativity and intuition, as well as to draw on other’s experience.
Q (O Globo, Brazil, 2017): One criticism that the old generations make to millenials today is that they all want to make a significant difference in the world, create their own business, shine. But there is no room for everyone to be a phenomenon. Do you agree with that? How do you think this young generationsÂ deal with frustration? Should this also be handled in the classroom? How?
This “criticism” is really a horrible disrespect for kids. Why is having big expectations something to criticize? Of course not every kid will create something as big as Google or Facebook, but every kid can make the world better, every day, in their own way — and that should be their goal. In the world today, every kid can find a group in which he or she is in the top 10 percent — and should.
Q (O Globo, Brazil, 2017): You say that the ends of education are changing. It is no longer the search for the best grade, but a quest to improve the world. Here in Brazil, just as in the US, I think, people often value meritocracy a lot. Can you imagine they could live without something that put them in a ranking, like a grade? How do we change that mentality?
The ends of education are, in fact, changing, from “improving indivduals academically” to “bettering their world.” So there is now a different “meritocracy”— one more akin to the one in the real world, where people are judged on their accomplishments. Rising to the top of an academic pyramid is not a good measure of “merit” except in an extremely narrow sense. That is why there is such a disconnect between school and business. The new meritocracy is best judged by accomplishments and interviews, which is exactly how people get jobs (unless politics and corruption intervene, as they do in many places.)
Q (O Globo, Brazil, 2017): Still about the educational model you propose: how is it possible to find a balance between the accomplishment tradition and the academic tradition? How can we show children that the academic should not be abandoned?
I think the academic tradition should be given its true worth, which is a niche, useful only for a small group. “Thinking” — which the academic tradition purports to be about— is important, and we should encourage it (in non-“academic” ways). But thinking is only a quarter (or less) of an education: a full education contains effective Thinking, effective Action, effective Relationships and, especially, effective Accomplishment. The academics did some good for the world in the past, but their time of dominance of education must now be over. We must extract the essential core of what they offer and remove all the rest, to make room for what is really needed.
Q (O Globo, Brazil, 2017): How was your school life? What experiences did you live in school and are fundamental in your life?
My experience in school was not what it could or should have been. I got what was considered a “good” public education through high school, and a top-end private education (Oberlin, Harvard, Yale) after that. Both helped shape my thinking in many ways, but not particularly my action, relationships or accomplishment. In fact they hampered them: I never thought i could be a writer — my greatest strength — while I was in school, becuase academic writing was too restrictive. I was a misfit in school—no one knew quite what to make of me. I cannot point to a single teacher who said “Marc, with your unique strengths and perspective I recommend you try …”
We often ask people “who was your best teacher, and how did they help you?” This is fine, and makes teachers feel good. But most people can only point to one or two, out of the 10-50 teachers they may have had. We would learn a lot more if we asked, instead, “who were your worst teachers, and why?”