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Experts stress the importance of teaching children innovation

Today’s students face a different kind of job market than their parents did, and they need a different kind of education. Kids who can access the wisdom of the ages through digital devices might not need to memorize so many facts. But they do need to know how to learn — and how to innovate.

However, the U.S. education system often fails to teach the skills that matter most in the marketplace, wrote Thomas Friedman, a columnist for The New York Times. In today’s world, high-wage, middle-skill jobs are disappearing and high-wage, high-skill jobs are the new norm. That’s why the goal of K-12 education today shouldn’t be to make every child college-ready, but to make students “innovation-ready” so they can add value to whatever they do, Friedman wrote, quoting Harvard education specialist Tony Wagner.

“Every young person will continue to need basic knowledge, of course,” Wagner told Friedman. “But they will need skills and motivation even more. Of these three education goals, motivation is the most critical. Young people who are intrinsically motivated — curious, persistent and willing to take risks — will learn new knowledge and skills continuously. They will be able to find new opportunities or create their own — a disposition that will be increasingly important as many traditional careers disappear.”

But schools persist in teaching and testing students on things they aren’t interested in and won’t use, Wagner said, and that leads to disengagement and lack of motivation. Instead of traditional accountability tests, he suggests students should create digital portfolios that show they have learned to think critically and communicate.

A digital portfolio is a multimedia version of the traditional portfolio, which is a goal-driven collection of artifacts and reflections that demonstrate expansion of knowledge over time. Reproducing and transmitting them is easy and inexpensive.

In an essay for The Wall Street Journal, Wagner told of interviewing many innovators and their parents, teachers and employers.

“What I learned is that young Americans learn how to innovate most often despite their schooling — not because of it,” he wrote.

There are high schools and colleges that do teach innovation skills — places like High Tech High in San Diego and the Institute of Design at Stanford University, he said. At these schools, students are allowed to learn from failure, and are taught that problems can’t be solved within the context of a single academic discipline, the essay said.

Perhaps most importantly, the classes are “hands-on,” with students acting as creators and not merely as consumers. And, parents have an important role, Wagner wrote, noting fascinating patterns that emerged from his interviews with parents of innovators:

“They valued having their children pursue a genuine passion above their getting straight A's, and they talked about the importance of giving back,” Wagner wrote. “As their children matured, they also encouraged them to take risks and learn from mistakes. There is much that all of us stand to learn from them.”