Creating Innovators Starts Early

In this new global economy, that runs and survives on the rapid transfer of information, we have never faced a more pressing need to create innovators with the 21st century skills they need to thrive in a fast changing environment.

According to the report, Are They Ready to Work, sponsored by The Conference Board, Corporate Voices for Working Families, The Partnership for 21st Century Skills, and the Society for Human Resource Management:

  • Students are graduating from both high school and college unprepared for the world of work. Less than a quarter of the more than 400 employers recently surveyed for a major study of work readiness report that new employees with four-year college degrees have “excellent” basic knowledge and applied skills. Among those who employ young people right out of high school, nearly 50 percent said that their overall preparation was “deficient.”

Education and leadership thought leader Tony Wagner, author of Creating Innovators, is committed to preparing our next generation of innovators and reforming education. According to Wagner, “schools haven’t changed, but the world has. Our students need new skills to succeed in college, careers, and citizenship.” Tony Wagner visited the Acera School last year—encouraged by a colleague who felt this school imbued his concepts.

The assumption by many business and government leaders is that we need more STEM, more math and technology focus in the classroom at an early age—and while that has tremendous benefits for producing brilliant math and science minds—it is not the most important factor in teaching innovation. Wagner says the schools that have been most successful in teaching innovation and preparing our students for a global economy “focus primarily on teaching skills and not merely academic content, including critical thinking and problem-solving, effective oral and written communication, and many of the other survival skills, such as collaboration and initiative.”  Creating innovators means less focus on memorized facts and more focus on creating a learning experience that gives students the opportunity to fine tune these 21st century skills.

For example, innovative techniques employed by teachers that encourage passion, play, and purpose— the most important tenements in an innovation education according to Wagner—are easy to implement in elementary school, before the barrage of standardized testing and college preparatory focus take hold. But in middle school in high school, most schools have students learning subjects in silos, with linear style textbook learning, and an emphasis on memorizing facts, dates, and vocabulary instead of practicing the creative problem solving and cross disciplinary collaboration Wagner deems most important for preparing our students for the 21st century workforce.

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