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19th-century doctrine for kindergartens could be key to saving your job from robots

Friedrich Froebel invented the concept of "kindergarten" and its focus on letting children build, design and create. Source: Wikimedia

We are now in an interregnum, a phrase coined by the Italian philosopher Antonio Gramsci in the 1920s to mean the period where “the old is dying and the new cannot be born” and it it, “a great variety of morbid symptoms appear”.

Fast forward to 2017, that means we are on the cusp of the 4th Industrial Revolution – where technology will radically change the way we live, work and relate to each other – yet, not all of us are prepared for this thanks to our entrenched ways of doing things.

Despite our lack of preparedness, the predictions are already in on what would happen to us if we are not ready for it. And they are dire: Half the tasks in 60 percent of jobs could be computerised, a McKinsey & Company study found earlier this year. While the Bank of England’s chief economist estimated that 80 million US jobs and 15 million US jobs could be replaced by robots.

Our education system is not helping – Most of the curriculum and pedagogy are stuck in the 19th century and tailored to prepare students for jobs in the previous industrial revolutions, not the one that is coming.

One solution to this could be found in a doctrine from 19th century educator Friedrich Froebel who invented the kindergarten, according Graham Brown-Martin, an educator and founder of Learning Without Frontiers.

“What he was inventing was a way of learning that would be suitable for 21st century learners. He understood that stuffing kids full on information in kindergarten wouldn’t be good for them. It would stop them wanting to know and so forth. And it’s based around this idea of a Creative Learning Spiral,” Brown-Martin said in his keynote speech at Bett Asia’s Leadership Summit 2017 in Kuala Lumpur yesterday.

Here’s an example of how the spiral works: A child first imagines what he or she wants to make from these physical building blocks which later became known as Froebel’s Gifts. Say it’s a castle, the child then builds it, plays with it and later shares this with their friends, who then add more blocks to it until the castle gets too high and then crashes to the ground. The next step is the child reflecting on what’s happened and to start imagining their next steps on what to do

By letting students make and reconstruct things this way, they develop the creative-thinking skills that are critical to prepping them for the 4th Industrial Revolution, which will leave all but the most human and creative jobs left for us. This method stands in contrast with today’s Instructionist method of teaching where students are force-fed information to regurgitate in exams before graduating into jobs more suitable for the 19th century.

“It’s learning how to learn that you would be going through all your life with, thinking about climate and these big problems. Or even about problems that mean something to us. We use the Creative Learning Spiral. Which means, we participate in our own learning,” Brown-Martin said.

Froebel’s work is seen as a predecessor to the “Constructionist” approach to education that engages learners in design experiences that are meaningful to them, as proposed by Seymour Papert, a South African-born American mathematician, computer scientist, and educator.

“None of these are new. They’ve been around for a while. They’re just not compatible with the textbook business model and measurement industries,” Brown-Martin said.

Things may be looking up now as Brown-Martin is not alone in espousing these beliefs. In fact, he  belongs to a growing movement of educators who are trying to move away from the standards-based rigid approach to education to one that will train them for a fast-changing digital future. That means less standardised testing, and putting literacy, digital literacy, and communication skills on equal footing with scientific knowledge.

It’s a debate that has taken decades, but is one that is slowly gaining ground, according to Diane Robinson, deputy director of Global Nomads Group, which connects kids virtually to spark conversation and empathy.

Speaking to Quartz, Robinson said: After 20 years, “people are finally having a more holistic conversation about what it takes for kids to be successful in work, career and college in the 21st century.”

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