Re-imagining Learning for the Fourth Industrial Revolution
This week at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos, Switzerland, leaders from across the globe are analysing the implications of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
The script at first glance seems familiar: 65 percent of children entering primary school will end up working in jobs that we cannot imagine today. Preparing children for the future of jobs demands re-focusing concepts of learning and education around “a breadth of skills”.
However, emerging analysis from the Annual Meeting in Davos reinforces a newfound urgency of the skills agenda, linking to the why, the what and the how we collectively re-imagine learning and re-think the critical importance of Early Child Development.
Let’s look at the skills sets required in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Complex Problem Solving, Critical Thinking and Creativity are the three most important skills a child needs to thrive in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, according to the Forum’s Future of Jobs Report. And let’s take a moment to underscore that Creativity has jumped from 10th place to third place in just five years. Emotional Intelligence and Cognitive Flexibility have also entered the skills list for 2020. Developing skills is not just a matter of being job-ready, it has societal implication where a breadth of skills provide people with resilience and an ability to adapt to change. A World Economic Forum article put out for the Annual Meeting says, “in the 21st century, resilience may well be the best form of social protection.”
At the LEGO Foundation, our research agenda is building evidence that developing these skills for the future also means understanding ‘holistic child development’ and the critical window of opportunity that the early years represent. To illustrate let’s pull on one strand. Let’s think about what is underneath our ability to solve complex problems. In early childhood we have answers from the literature, which state that ‘executive function’ and ‘self-regulation’, or the ability to “plan, focus attention, remember instructions, and juggle multiple tasks successfully” are turn-key. We know that these skills can be developed and/or that a child’s potential to develop these skills can be inhibited. Laying the groundwork in developing early competency, particularly in the first 1,000 days of life, positions a child to thrive and develop the optimal skill sets as they grow up during the Fourth Industrial Revolution. UNICEF's Executive Director Anthony Lake says, “The first 1,000 days of a child’s life are the most important to their development and our economic success.”
How we achieve this is more simple than you might think. Ensuring children receive protection, nutrition and stimulation, at home, in early childhood centres and wherever they may be is the crux of it. What does stimulation mean- in fact play is an important part of what is proven to support cognitive development. Pulling on the strand of executive function skills, did you know, for example, that the zero cost commodity of pretend, or creative play, such as playing house or playing shops, is consistently linked to developing executive function? And furthermore, that children who are better at pretend play may have a more positive outlook and better coping skills? At play Psychologist Alison Gopnik says, “children use data to formulate and test hypotheses and theories in much the same way that scientist do”, or as the LEGO Foundation puts it, they are naturally being creative, engaged lifelong learners.
If we are clear on developing skills of complex problem solving, critical thinking and creativity, it is essential that we recognise that these skills are built by learning through play across the lifespan, most importantly in the first three years of life. As we invest in early childhood centers, be it as parents, businesses or Foundations, let’s be sure to guard against directed learning, “schoolification” or 3-year olds learning their alphabet and numbers in written form when there is no evidence that this will make them better readers. Let’s equip adults in these centres to facilitate children’s exploration, empowering children to learn and develop their skills through play. We also need to challenge ourselves on the logic of flashcards and homework for our youngest at home and see the value of continuing to create joyful, meaningful play moments with our children .
The natural ability of children to learn through play may be the best-kept, low-cost secret for addressing the skills agenda within the Fourth Industrial Revolution: with potential to equip both our children and our economies to thrive. Plus, it’s fun. So, what’s stopping us? Let’s Play!
Mirjam Schöning, Head of Programme, Learning through Play in Early Childhood
Zelda Yanovich, Senior Initiatives Manager
Carlson, Stephanie M., Rachel E. White and Angela Davis-Unger, Evidence for a relation between executive function and pretense representation in preschool children’, Cognitive Development, Vol. 29, January– March 2014, pp. 1- 16. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0885201413000506
Fiorelli, Julie A., and Sandra W. Russ, ‘Pretend Play, Coping and Subjective Well-Being in children: A follow-up study’, American Journal of Play, vol. 5, no. 1, 2012, pp. 81–103. http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ985605.pdf