Saturday, August 17, 2013

2013 Was a Major Milestone in Education

Photo Credit: Jen Roberts
In the spring of 2013 the world passed a major milestone that, as far as I can tell, no one noticed. While we were preparing for the Common Core standards and debating which devices to buy for our 1:1 programs, the class of 2013...graduated.

What's so remarkable about that? It's not like it was a big year like the class of 2000 or even the class of 2025. Some might even say the 13 made it an unlucky year to graduate. So how is this a milestone for the world?

The class of 2013 is not remarkable because of their year of graduation. What's interesting about them is that they began kindergarten in the fall of 2000. The class of 2013 is the first group of students to have an entirely 21st century education.

While we've spent the last decade and change debating what a 21st century education looks like, they were quietly getting one. This begs the question, did they get the 21st century education they needed? Did the 12 years they spent in school prepare them with the knowledge and skills they will need to thrive for the rest of this century?

A few years ago I ran into a familiar looking young man at my son's preschool. He was waiting outside the office when I walked by. We both did a double take and I went back to speak to him. He was too young to be a parent there, so I guessed he was waiting for one of the teachers, a sister or girlfriend perhaps. After a short conversation we figured out that I had been his 7th grade English teacher sometime around 1997. Edgar was personable, happy to see me, and articulate. Eventually, I asked what he was doing waiting there outside the office. "Oh," he said, "I'm waiting for the director. I'm their web designer and we have a meeting."

The student, who I had taught in the 20th century, was there because he had a 21st century career as an independent web site designer.  There were a few web designers in the late 20th century, but not enough that anyone thought of it as a viable career category.  I had always known, hypothetically, that I was preparing my students for careers that didn't exist yet, but running into Edgar showed me how real that adage had become.

We are preparing our students for futures we can't predict. They will get jobs requiring very specialized skill sets. They will have to navigate an increasingly automated and digital world. They will look back on their K-12 school years as "the old days", tell their grand children about learning in classrooms that only had one working computer, and share stories about how they had to be sneaky to use their personal digital devices.

The class of 2013 is only the first to get a 21st century education. When we get to the class of 2018 we will be graduating a group of students who were born in the 21st century. The education we give students today will need to see them through the rest of the century.