Education for change

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Yesterday my nephew asked me what studies he should take to become like me. He is 12 and he admires me. I guess that will stop when he learns to see my shadows and downplay my virtues, but for now I overwhelmingly accept the challenge of answering questions like that one.

After thinking about it thoroughly, I see it is a question without an answer. At least without the immediate answer he would expect. I am aware of the amount of influence that my school-university years had on the person I am today, and that there is a huge difference between the studies I took and the jobs that followed. The world no longer works by the logic of studying for a university degree and then devoting the rest of your life to that field. My studies prepared me for a different world than the one I found, a trend that is clearly more prominent today, 15 years later.

It’s disconcerting that we spend more than 20 years of our life preparing ourselves to go and play a match where the rules of the game have changed. It's a match that will require big doses of adaptabiity, resilience, flexibility, creativity, empathy, collaboration, and the capacity to solve problems and take on new responsibilities — all skills that were mostly lacking from my schooling.

Today our world is defined by change. We live in societies that are becoming more and more volatile, where complexity is accelerating. Challenges are increasingly global and interdependent, and we often face the question of how to educate young people to thrive in such an ambiguous context where there is uncertainty and an unknown future.

There is a growing consensus about the need for a change in education. But what do we mean exactly when we talk about “educational change”? There is a constant debate about methodologies and pedagogies, technologies, evaluation systems, and how to redesign places of learning to adapt to the new needs of the world that we live now, or that we will live in.

It’s an important and necessary discussion, but it can tend toward focusing exclusively on how, and sometimes forgets to ask "why?" and "what for?"

What if, instead of “educational change,” we talk about what is needed for “education for a change”? What if we restore education's goal of (also) preparing people to be responsible for the place they live in, and committing to improving it?

Let’s be innovative. Let’s learn robotics, math, biology, or languages with this goal in mind. Let’s put all of that into practice in order to improve our surroundings. Let’s acquire this important knowledge; let’s develop cognitive, social, and emotional skills. And let’s innovate . . . with the goal of actively contributing to a better society. There are always opportunities to do this in every school around the world. There are Changemaker Schools demonstrating this all over the world, in the most diverse contexts.

We need people that are able to solve the huge social challenges that are facing us — environmental, financial, and political challenges. In a world where change is accelerating exponentially, it would be ideal for these skills to be the principal force behind that change so it is positive change for everyone’s sake. We need “changemakers” who are change agents: well-informed and academically excellent people who are empowered and able to put their knowledge and skills into practice in order to solve the critical problems that are affecting us.

And my wish is that my nephew will always receive this training, at school and at university, regardless of the path he takes.

This article was originally published on October 3, 2016
Related TopicsChildren & Youth, Education / Learning, Education reform, Youth leadership, Civic Engagement, Changemaking, Empathy, Youth in Charge


David Martin Diaz
David Martín Díaz is co-Director of Ashoka Spain and he is leading Ashoka's Changemaker Education strategy, activating ecosystems where every child and young person can become a changemaker. He has always been working in education and youth empowerment. Besides working in Ashoka for several years, he is the founder of, an educational platform for “citizen journalism” for teens, where young people share thoughts and take action. He was in charge of the Education for Development Department in UNICEF Spain for six years where he launched Amnesty International university groups.

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