by Erica Bol
Schools and universities’ mission statements talk about preparing students for the future. But are we preparing students for the future if our curricula are only focused on the past? In this rapid changing world, not even distant past is very informative of the future. In order to prepare our students, we should teach them how to anticipate, embrace and shape the future; we should teach them futures thinking.
Futures thinking is an essential skill that is critical to deal with a world full of changes. It will help students realize that they are capable of proactively creating desired outcomes and that they can influence their own future. This reduces anxiety and creates a sense of awareness, empowerment and hope.
Teaching futures thinking is very different from teaching math, a language or biology, as the “correct” answer is not known. Although decisions may have better or worse outcomes, the purpose of teaching futures thinking is not to teach the ‘correct’ decision, but rather to teach how to make the best possible decision for the future under the current circumstances.
The purpose of our initiative is to integrate futures thinking in primary and secondary education in order to better prepare children for their future. It shows them that they can form the system and contribute in a very specific and obvious way to the development of society, short- and long-term. It is important that they take responsibility for this important role and take ownership. What they do matters, not just what they are accountable for in the short term.
Initiative ‘Pilot NL – Futures Education’
The Netherlands will set the example on the international stage by being the pilot country for Futures Education. The Teach the Future Foundation is collaborating with five teacher-in-training programs (students from 18-25), five schools of secondary education (students from 12-18) and five schools of primary education (pupils from 6-12), to integrate futures thinking in their curriculum. Each school will integrate futures thinking in their own unique way so that it enhances, not clashes, with their identity.
We start by developing support and teaching our trainers, school teachers and teachers-in-training, about futures thinking. We do this by asking the teachers to apply future thinking skills to the future of their own school and by asking the teachers-in-training to think about their own future and their role within the future of education. It is the application to their own world that not only teaches them the necessary skills but also gets them engaged and makes them realize the importance of teaching futures thinking to their pupils.
As a next step for both the teachers and the teacher-in-training programs we work with each school individually to integrate future thinking in their curriculum. We individualize the approach and content to the specific school to increase the chances of success. This participative approach also enhances engagement and excitement for the initiative.
Our study shows the strength of this approach. The students of the Teacher in Training program at the Windesheim University, one of our pilot schools, reacted very positively. They felt it was a nice but also a very challenging experience. Most of them wished they had learned more about futures thinking earlier in their program. One student said ‘It was very difficult in the beginning, but the more we got into it the more sense everything made.’ More about this: Bol, E & Staring, M, July 2nd 2018 ‘Becoming a Future-Proof Teacher: Futures Education Integrated in a Teacher in Training Program’ (World Futures Review).
As a last step we will gather and analyse the data from all the pilot schools to develop a ”best practice” dataset that presents the most effective approaches to teach futures thinking categorised per age group. This will be an on-going process because we will keep learning and improving.
“Creating a shared vision of a sustainable and desirable future is the most critical task facing humanity today. This vision must be of a world that we all want, a world that provides permanent prosperity within the Earth’s biophysical constraints in a fair and equitable way to all of humanity, to other species, and to future generations.
Society is currently at a critical turning point. There is significant uncertainty about how environmental, social, and economic problems can be solved. However, there is growing consensus that the decisions we make as a society at this critical point will determine the course of our future for quite some time to come.” More about this: Costanz, R. & Kubiszewski, I. February 18 2014 ‘Creating a sustainable and desirable future: insights from 45 global thought leaders’
Futures thinking makes our students the entrepreneurs of the future. They will be able to create a clear vision for society. It will help them become more resilient and at the same time pay more attention to others and the environment. It will help the next generation to recognize the importance of sustainability and proactively improving the world.
We set up the pilot in a way that it facilitates pilots in other countries. Some of the materials and insights are universal but some will be more country specific. If you are interested in setting up a similar pilot in your country we would be more then happy to support you. Together we can extend our mission.
Being the maker of your own future and that of the world around you is something we need to teach all our children.
Would you like to know more about how to integrate futures thinking in your curriculum or this case example? Contact Erica Bol, Teach the Future (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Erica Bol is a conscious future designer who is passionate about creating a sustainable future. She has an entrepreneurial mindset and believes that thinking about the future is critical for solving today’s problems. She founded the Teach the Future Foundation in Europe after having set up a bachelor program in futures thinking and concept development at Fontys University of Applied Science in Tilburg. She is also working as a freelance consultant that helps organizations apply futures thinking to their own organization.