Teach the future, not just history. that’s in the past

The future reporter: writing an article about the year 2050

Teach the future as well as the past

In school we know how to teach about the past. We have history classes and we teach about past events, all from a local perspective. But why are we not teaching about the future? The future is just as important as the past, but the future hasn’t happened yet so we do not have the facts to educate our students. Teaching the future, or strategic foresight helps to become more futures literate.

Let me start to give you some context. I’m involved with this great global project called Teach the Future. An educational non-profit that aims to support the young to construct visions of the future that empower actions in the present. We’re a global network of academics, researchers, futurists, changemakers, positivists and entrepreneurs that all share this passion for the future. A sustainable future for generations to come. The future is uncertain, change is the only constant in life we have to be able to deal with the global challenges ahead.

We know that if we, as human species, keep living the way we do we are on a dead end road. Climate change is here and the predictions about the future impact of human behaviour on the climate are scientifically sound. The skill to visualise and construct visions of the future is crucial to deal with change. Visions that is sustainable for society, planet and economy.

How are we going to do that?

Futures thinking in education

Why don’t we teach about the future? Well there are a couple of arguments. Let’s list them:

  • The future hasn’t happend yet;
  • The fact that there are no facts about the future makes it difficult to teach. A war has happened, a revolution happend, the industrial revolution happened, we went to the moon, the internet happened and we now drive electric cars.
  • Futures education is not a science like mathematics, chemistry, physics or biology. Or should we say not yet? Shouldn’t we be integrating futures thinking skills into science and education?

UNESCO has defined Futures Literacy as a competence that allows people to better understand the role of the future in what they see and do. Being futures literate empowers the imagination, enhances our ability to prepare, recover and invent as changes occur. To deal with change UNESCO defined eight cross-cutting competencies for Education in Sustainable Development (ESD).

UNESCO’s cross-cutting skills

Here are the eight key competences:

  • Systems thinking competency: 
    • the abilities to recognize and understand relationships;
    • to analyse complex systems;
    • and to deal with uncertainty.
  • Anticipatory competency: 
    • the abilities to understand and evaluate multiple futures – possible, probable and desirable;
    • ability to create one’s own visions for the future;
    • to apply the precautionary principle; to assess the consequences of actions;
    • and to deal with risks and changes.
  • Normative competency: 
    • the abilities to understand and reflect on the norms and values that underlie one’s actions;
    • and to negotiate sustainability values, principles, goals, and targets, in a context of conflicts of interests and trade-offs, uncertain knowledge and contradictions.
  • Strategic competency: 
    • the abilities to collectively develop and implement innovative actions that help to improve sustainability at the local and global level.
  • Collaboration competency: 
    • the abilities to learn from others;
    • to understand and respect the needs, perspectives and actions of others (empathy);
    • ability to understand, relate to and be sensitive to others (empathic leadership);
    • to deal with conflicts in a group;
    • and to facilitate collaborative and participatory problem solving.
  • Critical thinking competency: 
    • the ability to question norms, practices and opinions; to reflect on own one’s values, perceptions and actions;
    • and to take a position in the sustainability discourse.
  • Self-awareness competency: 
    • the ability to reflect on one’s own role in the local community and (broader global) society;
    • ability to continually evaluate and motivate one’s actions;
    • and to deal with one’s feelings and desires.
  • Integrated problem-solving competency: 
    • the overarching ability to apply different problem-solving frameworks to complex sustainability problems and develop viable, inclusive and equitable solution options that promote sustainable development, integrating the above mentioned competences.

Futures reporter Experiment: an article in the year 2050

Now what’s next? How do we start to teach the future?

With the team of Teach the future I’ve been working on an experiment to bring futures thinking into the classroom. It is a very simple experiment to help young people play a role of mayor of a large city, researcher, entrepreneur or teacher and describe how they solved a challenge looking backward from the year 2050.

Do you want to have a go and inspire your children? Check the link for the form and get your name on the global map.