Raising Kids in the 21st Century

We have already concluded that classroom based curriculum driven school education fails to achieve its stated goals. All of us who have

 · 5 min read

We have already concluded that classroom based curriculum driven school education fails to achieve its stated goals. All of us who have been through this system fail to recall any significant educational value apart from literacy, basic arithmetic and the opportunity to form friendships. Also a school curriculum falls far behind the vast body of human knowledge, and the way it is designed, is almost arbitrary.

So what should we teach our children? One way of looking at it is that the goal of education should be to convert children from dependents to independents. Great! So how do we make children capable and confident of living independently? Not only merely surviving or living on the mercy of other people, but as thinking individuals who are capable of controlling their own lives.

Becoming Independent

To understand what will the children need to become independent, we need to make some assumptions of the world they are going to live in. Young people in today’s age become independent when they either get a job or start earning their livelihood from some entrepreneurial activity, either as a freelance professional or starting their own business. Let us study both these outcomes.

For the sake of this discussion, we will be leaving out those who are born with capital and can make money from rent.


To become an entrepreneur, there are two broad paths. Either the entrepreneur must have a marketable skill (something someone is willing to pay money for) or needs to identify an opportunity to service a missing need in society. For both these things, entrepreneurs must spend non-trivial time and effort to build the skill or identify the opportunity.

For becoming a skilled freelance professional, the person must spend years practicing the skill and honing it against measurable goals. For example if you want to be a freelance designer, you must be able to deliver when presented with an opportunity to deliver to the customer. For this, during your educational journey, you must both identify the skill you enjoy working on and also practice it enough so that you bring it to a marketable state.

For an entrepreneur who looks to fill a gap in the market, the person must spend time in exploring the various contours of a market, identify a gap, have the ability to raise capital. Along with this the entrepreneur must find the skill or acquire a skill to fill the gap.

For example, if you have identified a gap in the market of setting up rooftop solar units, you need first understand how rooftop solar units are bought by customers, find vendors who supply the units, learn the skill of setting them up and also raise some capital so you can setup demo units for your potential customers. To reach this stage, you must spend time either as an apprentice or as a skilled professional in the domain.

In both these approaches, entrepreneurs must also have the ability to communicate their value, understand the need of customers, be trustworthy and culturally acceptable to customers, manage chores like banking and billing and other sundry skills. Entrepreneurs also don’t have a guaranteed income, so they must understand the dynamics of capital and savings and the ability to plan for periods when they may not find any customers.

Working for Organizations

The other approach to become independent is to work for other organizations who are already servicing some need in the market. If the goal is to work for a larger organization, there are two core skills that must be learnt. First is of course a marketable skill, that the organization is willing to pay you for, and second the ability to work in a system where decisions may or may not be made by you.

The path to learn a marketable skill is same as being an entrepreneur, while to work in an organization requires the person to have faith in other people and their vision. In return for this trust, the organization provides the person a well defined set of goals, risk free income and systems (so they don’t have to worry about sundry skills).

Even for those who work for other organizations, they must plan for situations where they may be unhappy with the job, or they may be out of a job (for various reasons). For such time they also need to understand capital and savings.

Being Social and Spiritual

Being financially independent is not the only goal of education, when children grow up, they must also understand the dynamics of living in a family and society. They must understand the value of co-operation and compromise and living in a rule based society. They must understand that no human can live independently but we are all part of a system of co-existence.

At the same time they must realise that not all current systems are fair, and there is an opportunity to improve them. They may be living in an age where humans would need extra ordinary co-operation to take on global challenges like climate change.

Apart from this, they must also be able to understand the human condition and able to dig deep into their consciousness and ask existential questions. They must be able to face their own mortality and question the absurdity of human living.

The Curriculum (Redux)

This is already a long list of things young people growing up in this era need to be trained on, so how do we create a system that will impart all these lessons to children? When we start a learning centre where children are self-directed, what should be the learning goals of such a system?

  1. Planning: Children must be encouraged to take long term projects that span multiple days, so that they can learn to stick to a goal and measure their performance against a goal.
  2. Co-operation: Children must be part of the process of defining rules and following them in the learning centre. For example how do we distribute scarce resources fairly? Or how do we help someone who is struggling?
  3. Spirituality: There must be regular discussions about society and religion and what is right or wrong without prejudice or any boundaries.
  4. Scientific Method: Children must be taught to validate their hypothesis against experiments and learn to accept the hypothesis only if it is backed by the result.
  5. Research: Children must be able to find and assimilate the information they need to understand a system or a topic. This means navigating through sources like the internet and books or asking people.
  6. Managing Systems: Children must be active participants in the running of the learning centre, including maintaining accounts, purchasing, understanding how money is collected and spent.
  7. Entrepreneurship: Children (after a certain age) must be asked to do something that someone else is willing to pay for.
  8. Social: Children must learn to engage with civic issues in the community they live in.
Looking at this list, this obviously is a daunting task! But it is better to evaluate how children are performing in each of these categories rather than the current system which only measures how well they can recall a certain topic which is already presented to them in a summarised manner.

This is not an exhaustive list either. I am sure there are many other things that can be added or removed. The next step would be to design specific activities that will be undertaken at the learning centre so we can ensure they are independent and confident by the time they are ready to take on the world.

What do you think of these objectives? Would love to know your thoughts!

Rushabh Mehta

Rushabh is a co-founder and director of the Learner's Collective Foundation

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