What Yuval Noah Harari says about education – and life – in the 21st century
18 November 2020
Yuval Noah Harari is an Israeli public intellectual, historian and a history professor at a university in Jerusalem.
He is an author of popular science books where he examines free will, consciousness, intelligence, happiness and suffering.
Harari’s followers call his writings a “tour de force” and “essential reading”.
His detractors say that Harari “fails to convince entirely” and that his work can be regarded as “infotainment”.
Nevertheless, Harari has some interesting thoughts and theories on
“What the year 2050 has in store for humankind”
and education and life in the 21st century.
Change is the only constant
Harari maintains that today we have no idea how the world will look in 2050. We don’t know what people will do for a living and how governments will function.
Much of what is taught to learners at educational institutions will probably be irrelevant by 2050.
Hariri says that schools in the present education system generally focus on cramming information. In the distant past this made more sense because information was scarce.
Harari uses the following example: If you lived in a small town in Mexico (or in Russia, India, Turkey or China – or South Africa) in 1800 it was difficult to know much about the wider world. There was no radio, television, newspapers or libraries. Even if you were literate and had access to a private library, there was not much to read other than novels and religious tracts.
When modern schools came along, teaching every child to read and write and introducing the basic facts of geography, history and biology, represented an immense improvement.
Let’s move to the 21st century where we are flooded by enormous amounts of information including misinformation, fake news and loads of irrelevant information. All of this is but one click away.
“In such a world, the last thing a teacher needs to give her pupils is more information. They already have far too much of it. Instead, people need the ability to make sense of information, to know what is important and what is unimportant.”
The heat is on
Apart from cramming information, most schools also focus (too much, according to Harari) on providing learners with a set of predetermined skills such as solving differential equations, writing computer code and identifying chemicals in a test tube.
But, we have no idea how the world and the job market will look in 2050. We don’t know what skills people will need. Harari believes the best skill to teach is reinvention.
Harari points out that many pedagogical experts believe schools should teach “the four Cs”: critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity. In a nutshell, schools should downplay technical skills and emphasise general-purpose life skills.
Harari points out that, as technology gets better at understanding humans, humans are being hacked.
To an extent your emotions and desires are manipulated by propaganda (from the government and from commercial advertisers) and this also leads to a degree of brainwashing. In the words of Harari, “Coca-Cola, Amazon… (and) the government knows how to pull the strings of your heart and press the buttons of your brain…”
Thus Harari recommends that you ensure that you “know what you are, and what you want from life”.