Education for an Uncertain Future

The future has never been certain. People have imagined, and will always imagine, what the future will hold for them, and while occasionally there have been accurate predictions, these are the exception rather than the rule. We are not getting across town in flying cars, nor have our housekeepers been replaced by the robots predicted in the 1970’s. Perhaps a few individuals did, but we as a society did not appreciate the revolutionary, world changing impact of the internet at its inception, nor the tremendous influence of social media in the early days of ‘Myspace’ and the like.

In Uganda, we nevertheless try to predict what is around the corner. We can make some educated guesses about how different our country may become; perhaps we will be heavily dependent and influenced by China. After all, the investment China is making in this country is substantial, and we may make some educated guesses about how that might play out. Or perhaps our economy will be highly reliant on oil. We know we have the potential for this resource. Could this be what revolutionizes our country’s economy?

Yet we are wise to accept that we are unlikely to accurately predict what future decades will hold for us. If we ever unlock the oil resource we have, we may find global demand dries up as western countries find ecologically friendly alternatives to fossil fuels. China may decide to cut their losses in Uganda in a situation like this, or find other emerging markets to concentrate on. Some new innovation might change the way global commerce is done, and leave Uganda further behind, or we may discover a new resource that becomes a valuable global commodity.

Yet we still need to prepare ourselves for times to come. This is the purpose of our education: it is an investment in the future. There are 2 approaches to investing in education:

Either we train ourselves for skills to give us advantages in predicted future events - learn Chinese, or sign up for one of the plethora of Oil and Gas programs offered by many universities. But the future is uncertain, we could be wrong about these predictions.

Or we can train ourselves to be lifelong learners, to open up our learning perspectives to have a growth mindset. What does this mean? It means we train ourselves in skills that can be widely applied in a wide variety of situations, that we train our minds to see problems as opportunities, and to solve them efficiently. We research and learn of new approaches to effectively tackle never before encountered situations, and apply ourselves to learning new skills whenever needed. We make our education train us in how we think, not what we know.

A fixed mindset encounters a situation they have not been trained for, and says they have nothing to offer and can’t get involved. A growth mindset is faced with a new challenge they have never encountered before, and get excited by the opportunity to learn a new skill to tackle it. How are we training our minds to take this perspective? How are our schools and university programs facilitating this?

So ask yourself whether the education you or your children are receiving is preparing the student well for exams, or generating a hunger for learning itself? Are we just learning facts that Google can tell us anyway, or are we understanding new concepts that can be applied widely? Are we learning through repetition and cramming, or are we learning through inquiry and discovery? And is our education academic, or is it holistically helping us apply values, innovate, and become better leaders? The answer to these questions may tell you whether the education you are paying for is a wise investment in the future. 

If our education system can change to achieve these new set of goals, no matter what the future holds for Uganda, we, and our children, will thrive in it. 

Author: Sean Clarke