What students need to know for their future has changed.

School supplies with the words “Same old back to school?” written on a notecard.

Current lists of school supplies for high school students hasn’t changed in over 50 years. The only newer items are a calculator and flash drive, which both seemed dated as well.

As students head back to school, it’s a good time to think about how we are preparing them for their lives. Like school supplies there are always basic skills that are timeless. Yet, trends point to the need for a different set of skills not too far in the future.

The ubiquity of information and elimination of work through automation are old news. Both date back centuries, but their present and near future exponential increase merit consideration. These two along with the growing economic inequity, climate destabilization, and further political polarization will define their mid-21st century adult lives. These trends apply globally, nationally and locally.

To be able to thrive in the world to come, today’s young increasingly need to be given skills for making sense of a troubling world. The challenge of the near future is less and less about conquering the unknown. It is more and more about updating the paradigms that underlie the sources of the crises that confront us.

Just as paper, pencils and staples are marginalized in a digital world, so are skills for the accumulation of wealth and status for the challenges in our future. It will be more useful and fulfilling to have skills for being comfortable and confident with who you are. So will skills and drive for actualizing the good you personally bring to the world.

Not only we need to teach these skills to our youth, we need to learn them ourselves. This is not just about the transition from adolescence to adulthood. It is about each of our transitions from one life paradigm to another as the future unfolds for all of us. A future that will be very different from the one that we have arrived in today.

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