What Yuval Noah Harari says about education in the 21st century

18 November 2020

Yuval Noah Harari is – according to Wikipedia – an Israeli public intellectual,
historian and a history professor at a university in Jerusalem.
He is an author of popular science books and writes about
free will, consciousness, intelligence, happiness and suffering.

Harari has his followers who call his writings a “tour de force” and “essential reading” and his detractors who 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 this includes opinions on education – now and in the future.

Thought 1:
Change is the only constant

All of us face changes every day. The weather changes every day and what you plan to do on a day, often changes in some way.

In this way, we can know for sure that change will happen and does happen. You should always expect change because it affects all of us.

Changes in education have happened in the past and are still happening.

In the present education system schools generally focus on the cramming of 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 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. This would also have been true if you lived in a small town in Russia, India, Turkey, China or South Africa.

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. These days we are flooded by enormous amounts of information. Not only that, but we are constantly confronted by misinformation, fake news and loads of irrelevant information too. All of this is but one click away.

This makes it hard to know what to believe.

Thought 2:
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 (think Maths!), writing computer code (think CAT (Computer Applications Technology)!) and identifying chemicals in a test tube (think Physical Sciences!).

But, think about it, 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.

Thought 3:
Hacking humans

Technology is getting better at understanding humans.

Once you have googled a topic or a shopping item, suggestions on what to read up or buy next pop up all over the place. It means, according to Harari, that you have been hacked, not your device.

If we take this one step further it means that your emotions and desires also reflect on-line propaganda and clever marketing.

Be aware of this, says Harari and recommends that you ensure that you get to know yourself really well and that you control your personal existence.

Whether you agree with these thoughts or not, it makes for good conversation, doesn’t it?

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