What should we teach our children

3 min min read - November 4, 2020

Martin has started primary school, so thoughts about education and the future began to gather in my head. Luckily instead of panicking and Googling, I've turned towards some literature. Thanks to a brilliant book by Steve Biddulph - Raising Boys in the 21st Century I realised that our progress so far is far better than we should expect. As for trilingual four-five year old, he picks up phonics and numbers pretty well, can use various devices, tell stories, learns to describe emotions, shows compassion, empathy and care. Despite still weak English, he manages to build strong relations with other children. He even can perform simple "programming" with Scratch and CodeSpark.

It's very uplifting he considers software development as a real job (when some people still see it as "playing with your computer all day"), and he understands it's a source of wealth in our and other families.

And he learned to cycle. Ten years younger than I've been when I obtained that skill.

I'm a bit terrified for kids his age pulled and pushed to start to speak fluently in multiple languages, serious sports, do advanced math (tho I know a child his age who is just mad about numbers and no one forces him to learn them). I'm ready to sit down with Martin and build RaspberryPi robot (tho his role mostly is to assemble some lego around it and later manoeuvre using Scratch on iPad) or teach basics of JavaScript (JavaScript for Kids) when he'd get better with literacy. But I'm not sure if that's needed.

Well. I will teach all of that if Martin would like to.

Tho. I'm now on the third, astonishing book from Yuval Noah Harari: 21 Lessons for the 21st Century and realise that all the pressure with current educational goals can be long obsolete (you can find a good summary of the book here.

Without spoiling you the book, I'd say that he argues that:

  • AI translators will make us talk fluently in Mandarin without knowing a single word in it
  • AI will write better code than humans

Only sport seems not so much affected. But let's be honest. It's not a good enough career for many.

Earlier in the book, Harari argues that times of following one profession throughout the lifetime is a thing of a past. And even tho I spend my whole professional life as a software developer I cannot agree more. The only reason that I'm still in IT is that I changed with IT. I've been simple PHP developer, .NET developer, Node Developer. At some point became part UX/UI designer, DevOp and most recently a manager. I've changed companies, projects and environments.

I'm lucky to think I'm in stable trade because part of that trade is constant learning. But I feel the breath of AI on my neck.

Yuval follows after pedagogical experts that schools should switch to teaching the four C's:

  • critical thinking
  • communication
  • collaboration
  • creativity

And it does make sense. We need critical thinking to regain some control over our lives (tho I don't believe we will be 100% free and 100% conscious ever). We need to communicate well, both with humans and machines. We need to learn how to work with other people if we don't want to be ousted. We need to be creative, as it's our last line of defence against "robots".

And scary how it sounds, but if you look at the "Eton clique", they master precisely that. That makes them achievers, tho lacking some kind of empathy and love to other people (feel free to blame it on the boarding school format).

I won't fool myself. We cannot expect schools to change so much, so fast. I would either emigrate to Finland to achieve that or take my role as a parent and fill the gaps.

  • Critical thinking: talk with him, induce curiosity; debate about books, cartoons, people behaviour; ask what he thinks rather than always give definite answers.
  • Communication: talk with him; listen to him; let him play in various groups of people in various age; limit receives mode only pastimes.
  • Collaboration: play with him (not next to him); build with him (not for him); sign him up to Scouts or not a too competitive team sport.
  • Creativity: give him books, tell him stories, ask him to tell stories, draw what and how he wants, play with anything regardless if it's super safe or clean.

I'm not an expert, of course. I'm still learning. And I need to grow in myself the same virtues I want to grow in him, as his mirror neurons will copy it no matter what. So I also need more books. I also need more team play. I also need to improve my communication. I also need to reach to people (especially in those difficult Covid times). I also need to dust off my creativity, even it's a bit of doodling in the evening.

What about you? What should you teach your children? What do you think we should learn ourselves?