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We Want Innovative Future Leaders. But We’re Not Educating Innovatively.

How do we prepare students for a future we can barely even imagine?

One Friday in 2018, Greta Thunberg decided to skip school.

This wasn’t because she simply didn’t want to do her homework or disliked learning. It was because she knew that she was being forced to make a choice: attend school or do something in the real world to protect and ensure her future.

While the Fridays for Future movement is primarily a cry for climate change attention, it also is a cry for attention to our students – that they feel schools are ignoring their futures. With the overwhelming lack of climate justice education along with outdated curricula, schools have become places that are more concerned with maintaining the status quo than prepping students for a rapidly changing future.

This poignant divide is especially felt in America. We have grown so accustomed to the conventional schooling model in our nation – a model that emphasizes routine memorization and standardized testing – that we’ve forgotten one simple fact. Our universal school structure was created during the World Wars which encouraged standardized education to be created for the economic growth of a middle class and which emphasized uniformity and routine.

Why are we still operating within this outdated system? We are in a new era of fierce technological and social advancement. A standardized system is not the way to prepare the innovative, creative, and problem-solving minds that we desperately need to create the sustainable future many of us are envisioning. We cannot expect students to create a more just and equitable world without giving them the educational foundation to do so.

A World Economic Forum report recently dropped the statistic that nearly 65% of the jobs that elementary-aged students will enter do not exist yet. (Yes, our jaws dropped too.) The future is one we can barely even imagine. On top of that, entrepreneurism is currently the way of economic growth with small and medium-sized businesses making up 90% of all companies. And 70% of economic value in the future will come from digitally-based platforms. The world has already changed drastically – and it is going to keep becoming more complex.

Knowing this, we must look at our current approach to education and understand that we cannot expect to grow the future minds of tomorrow with a structure that was set up to meet the standards of an era that did not include the internet, celebration of diversity, modern technology, or the climate crisis.

What must we do then? We must turn education around by 180 degrees to meet students where they are, promoting curiosity and innovation, and we must be encouraging STEM and entrepreneurial pursuits.

What does this look like?

· Shift from a rote memorization approach to phenomenon-based and experiential learning approaches

· Encourage students to ask their own questions and build their own senses of curiosity

· Provide in-field mentors, real-world STEM opportunities, and STEM programs to all students

· Help students identify their passions, knowing that passion in today’s world can be harnessed to create a sustainable future

· Build up entrepreneurship education

· Prioritize imagination

· Educate emotional, social, and psychological connection along with academic learning

· Encourage deeper connection between teachers and students by switching to grade-to-grade looping

· Build teacher and parent communication so students move within a sustainable, holistic support system

The World Economic Forum recently published an insightful article explaining how necessary a reimagination of our school systems is. We would encourage you to read it to understand why choosing a new path at this crossroads in education is so important.

We are so passionate about this topic at NJIN. New Jersey Institute of Nature’s express purpose is to approach education in a new way – a way that is self-directed by students, that encourages reflection and time spent observational learning in nature, and that requires young people to ask big questions which then motivate them to discover the answers. We incorporate entrepreneurial and innovative thinking in our programs so we can empower students, letting them know that they have a voice and that their ideas truly will change the world.

If we expect our students to be future innovators, it’s our job as educators and mentors to innovate educational approaches that really do prepare them for the future. It’s time to start reimagining tomorrow’s education today!

If you have any thoughts, questions, or comments on this article, please DM us on Instagram or Facebook at @nj_institute_of_nature. We’d love to carry on the conversation and create new possibilities with you and our students!



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