Education will be elevated in the minds of many parents, especially if they have been struggling with home learning. But what subjects should young people study to prepare them for the future?
Tim and Kelley McDonald enrolled their son Jack in the Knowledge Society (TKS), a part-time school for teens, to give him a chance to learn what he does not do in mainstream school.
“In my regular school we don’t talk about cryptography or quantum computing, it’s not in the curriculum, so for years I had to find time to learn on my own,” says Jack, 15 years old, who is enrolled in the first New York cohort of the knowledge society program.
Recently declared as one of the “schools of the future” by the think tank of the World Economic Forum, it offers education and training to young people between 13 and 17 years old interested in artificial intelligence (AI) and d ‘other niche technological subjects rarely if ever taught in mainstream schools.
Before The Knowledge Society, Jack, one of four siblings and the only TKS member, was interested in neuroscience and discussed being a brain surgeon.
Classes at TKS have around 40 students and take place two days a week (weekends) for three hours a day.
The 10-month program is not inexpensive, it costs between $ 5,395 and $ 8,225 (£ 4,395 and £ 6,700) for the 2020-21 academic year, depending on the city in which it takes place.
Programs are currently offered in cities across North America, including Boston, Seattle, Los Angeles and Toronto, and TKS is expected to expand to London and Latin America in 2021. (Classes are currently offered online due to the coronavirus epidemic.)
The overview of the Knowledge Society 2020-2021 program highlights 40 areas of interest, including learning 3D printing, bionics or wireless electricity, with a full program of duration of three years.
Should ordinary schools therefore offer such ambitious subjects?
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Matthew McKean, director of education and skills at the Conference Board of Canada (Canada’s leading independent research organization) is unsure.
“We run the risk of teaching young people to use technologies that may be obsolete by the time they enter the workforce,” said McKean, adding that human skills, such as communication and settlement relationships, are more durable and transferable.
And the demand for these skills may not be as high as people expect, he argues. “How many people really need to know how to code or program the blockchain, for example?” “
McKean argues that automation and emerging technologies will only increase the need for deep human understanding and social skills.
“Our research confirms that the future of learning and working is social and emotional, not technical. Employers increasingly demand human skills, such as social and emotional intelligence, collaboration, creativity, intercultural skills, relationship building, resilience and adaptability, which places new demands on our vocational training systems, “he says.
MIT professor David Shrier, who has also written books on financial technology and blockchain, thinks schools like The Knowledge Society are great at attracting children’s interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).
“A 13 year old who learns genomics makes a good headline,” he says, but points out that the field could be radically different in four years.
“What will they do then without a solid foundation of critical thinking?” ” he asks.
The knowledge society also teaches critical thinking, says co-founder Nadeem Nathoo, noting that the course teaches young people how to organize and write their thoughts, as well as learning to speak confidently to an audience.
But he defends the value of studying cutting-edge technical subjects directly. “If they weren’t exposed to this type of content or to types of problems at TKS, it would be unrealistic to think of solving them,” he said. “I think we have to train people for the intention [to solve technical problems] and show them that these problems exist and that they have the power to solve them. “
Everything is fine, but does it impress potential high-tech employers, who will have to choose the talented graduates to hire? Anne Martel is co-founder of Element AI, which adapts artificial intelligence (AI) for business use.
She believes that a high level of computer skills and problem solving is the most important thing children need today – and learning advanced technologies could be a good way to do it.
“When we teach our children AI, we teach them a technical language and deepen them in probability and statistics. I think it’s incredibly relevant to their future, “she said.
Although she approves specialized technology courses like those offered by TKS, she says that broader skills are important. Curiosity, creativity and good old grain are traits she looks for when hiring for her business.
There are other options for parents who want their children to learn more about the technology.
Fire Tech focuses on topics such as video game design and 3D game development, while providing a distance learning option. Meanwhile, GEMS World Academy Chicago, like TKS, focuses on technology and the global community, offering robotics and coding courses.
The knowledge society is certainly expensive, and many bright students could expect to excel without spending all that money. But Nathoo says about half of the students get paid internships that cover tuition fees in less than a year.
And is it really healthy for teens to spend seven days a week studying? “I think there’s a common misconception that it’s like a sweatshop for kids … it’s not like that. They love to do this, “said Mr. Nathoo.
“There is no pressure on them, but yes, it is for people who want to accelerate their trajectory, and we will exploit their potential. “
Jack McDonald’s parents say that he spends 15 to 20 hours a week at his work at TKS and that this is in addition to his regular school work.
It is certainly not something that every child could thrive on. But for Jack, it’s “more precious than my whole schooling together.”