When I first became a parent 13 years ago, the one area I was confident I could effectively guide my kids on was education. Ever since I was a child, I was a dedicated academic student. I can’t say I was the smartest but I had a great work ethic which consistently gave me great grades.
Coming from an immigrant family, education was seen as a means to good employment that would help our family build strong roots in Canada. This meant poor performance in school was not an option. The recipe that our community saw as guaranteed success always involved excelling in math, science and english to enter a professional designation. I recall being in high school and negotiating with my father to allow me to pursue french and visual arts. He accepted provided I got A’s in algebra-geometry, calculus, physics, chemistry, biology and english. It was hard for me to question their thought process. My father came from extreme poverty and rose to be a well reputed engineer because he attained a bachelors and masters in engineering, passing with exceptional marks.
While working in India, he was scouted by a Canadian company, which was how our family ended up moving abroad. Amongst our family friends, there were many like him. All ended up enjoying the fruits of their labour by being able to buy beautiful homes, climbing the corporate ladder, supporting family in India, paying for their kids post-secondary education and funding lavish weddings. So I did what they suggested, and focused on a professional degree. I worked to get the grades I needed to get into a good school. I knew if I did that, I would make it. It worked!
I graduated from the University of Toronto’s Chemical Engineering program and started my Master’s soon thereafter. As a result of my undergraduate marks, I received a national level scholarship. As soon as I graduated, I had an offer in hand for my first job. It worked like clock-work, and I was pleased. So, when my kids were born, I knew I would impress upon them what was impressed upon me. Get good grades in school, so you get into a great university and you will secure a great job. The only thing I would do differently than my father was to allow them to explore arts and sports more actively. My mom was always my supporter in those areas, and I still believe it served me well.
Until three years ago, I was content in my bubble that my recipe would work. Both my kids were excelling in school and expanding themselves in artistic and athletic areas. My job was to help them where they were struggling in any academic classes and to find out what sports they liked, whether they had any artistic talents and/or interests. That itself was a lot of work.
But everything changed in 2013 when I read a report by McKinsey on youth unemployment. I found out that they are experiencing double the unemployment rate than everyone else. What was even more alarming was that this wasn’t a Canadian economy problem, this was an international economy problem. When I dug into the data, I was hoping it was because the kids were uneducated, or lazy, or something that I wasn’t raising my kids to be.
However, amongst the unemployed were your academic achievers, your high performers, your go-getters. My heart sunk, I realized my formula for success had suddenly become obsolete and I wasn’t sure why. I knew education was still important, and I assert it still is. However, what was up for debate was whether it was sufficient.
I learned, after researching, that we needed more ingredients in the new recipe. The world is changing so fast that the jobs that will be relevant for our kids have yet to be invented. The future economy had become an uncertain one and my kids needed to learn also how to adapt to uncertainty. They needed to become inventors and creators. They needed to learn collaboration, not as a friendly word of sitting around a table and smiling at each other, but to actually know how to leverage the strengths of each other. They needed to learn business. The knowledge that was imparted to students and was deemed so valuable through a degree or diploma had become free on the internet.
The application of knowledge is the future. Not just any kind of application, but an application that solves problems that we as a society believe are problems worth solving. I have shifted my parenting to more than just getting good grades. They must learn the fundamentals and look at the world with inquisition. What works and what doesn’t? What solutions are relevant? How do you bring these ideas to life? Who do you need on your team? Interlaced in it all is understanding how technology will be a part of it. Learning how to share ideas clearly, define problems and decode brands are part of what we do as fun activities.
I’m grateful I discovered that the recipe needed changing in time to help my kids and youth around me adjust. I believe the new pedagogy has yet to be codified. I hope that other parents, like me, will take notice.