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  • Writer's pictureStacey Chiew

Educating Our Children To Be Future-Ready

Do not confine your children to your own learning, for they were born in another time. – Chinese proverb

Always dressed in a crisp business suit, Samuel Hungsoo Kim might seem to be someone who gets a kick out of the cutthroat code of Wall Street crashes and highs. Nothing, however, could be further from the truth.

Samuel Hungsoo Kim, right.

Kim, a Korean, left a high-paying job as a consultant to pursue his dream of nurturing and empowering talented youth in Asia through leadership education, helping young people to become the leaders of tomorrow. Back in 2014, while at Harvard as a student and then as a scholar, he set up the Center for Asia Leadership Initiatives (CALI) with John Lim, his colleague and dear friend since elementary school.

Kim believes that nothing is more satisfying than giving thousands of young people a reason to develop their leadership qualities. He has given talks in 72 cities across 32 countries, primarily in Asia. In his view, the education offered in 21st-century schools must prepare students to adapt to their own rapidly changing society, keeping pace with global development.

To Kim, cultivating leadership skills is essential even for those young people who don’t want to lead. Not everyone enjoys standing in front of a group or directing a meeting, but they can still contribute valuable ideas to improve a situation. Leadership qualities and skills will therefore serve all young people well, no matter their position in life. Kim believes that leadership is personal, not positional. Effective leaders are constant learners; they know when to lead and when to follow. Exploring and developing his ideas, he has written and edited nine books on how to strengthen one’s leadership skills and become a successful leader, as well as why student leadership is important to education.

The ongoing quest for better educational outcomes has motivated Kim to work tirelessly toward his goal and to travel around the world extensively, giving seminars and workshops for both youth and adults. The way he sees it, the real goal of education is to help students acquire flexibility and resilience, so that they can remain lifelong learners under all circumstances.

When asked about the future trends in education, Kim replied, “The world is moving away from the conventional pattern of teaching and learning. We are witnessing a paradigm shift in education. High-school students are encouraged to demonstrate their learning by following a more practical approach—project-based learning, which is a dynamic classroom approach giving students the opportunity to explore real-world problems and acquire a deeper knowledge. This instructional approach, in which students learn through completing a project, is becoming a common practice in high schools across the U.S.”

John Lim, the co-founder of CALI, shared his views on education: “Teaching does not always result in learning unless the teachers are able to provide feedback and motivation to students. Gone are the days when teachers were seen as the only source of information. This is the digital age, and students are turning to social media for research work and study. The first thing most students do when they need to know something is search In a classroom setting, effective learning will take place only through discussions, presentations, and positive teacher- student interactions.”

Kim explained that high-performing high schools in the U.S. tend to place a strong emphasis on ongoing professional development, while average schools prefer to focus on rules. High- performing schools know that teaching quality and school leadership are the most important factors in helping students raise their achievement levels. High-performing schools also strive to prepare their students for the real world, while low-performing schools simply prepare their students for graduation. Many schools still fall into the second category, and this has been a major focus of the changes underway in the education system.

Kim strongly believes that schools should provide a wide range of opportunities for students to acquire knowledge and practice their leadership skills, in preparation for later life. It is crucial for a school’s teachers and management team to work together in order to identify what will work best for the school and the students, so that the quality of learning and teaching in their classrooms can be improved.

Education experts have been saying this for many years: the 21st century is the era of lifelong learning. Teachers as educators should constantly look for new ways to boost critical-thinking and practical-reasoning capabilities in their students, as well as promoting citizenship and reflection-in-action skills regardless of the students’ age or experience. And while teachers are busy telling their students to adopt a growth mindset, they should also be pushing themselves to grow. Everyone, at any age, can learn and improve. Teachers owe it to their students to learn, improve, and apply a variety of effective strategies in their teaching, so that their students can achieve their personal bests and earn better grades.

Kim feels strongly that schools should focus on preparing and equipping students with problem- solving skills that are applicable in real life, so that they can analyze and reflect on their own learning processes. One way to do this is to provide Design Thinking courses in schools, creating real-life experiences in the classroom and encouraging students to draw analogies between their academic lessons and the skills they will need to lead in later life.

“The design-thinking framework can be applied to all subjects,” explained Lim. “It consists of four key elements: defining the problem or need, creating and considering multiple options, refining the selected directions, and executing the best plan of action.”

Design thinking is an emerging movement around the world, not just in the U.S., and its methods can be taught to primary, secondary, and university students. Design-thinking courses offer a series of projects that require students to identify problems, find solutions, develop new answers, share ideas, and collaborate. Most of all, the programs teach students that they can shape the world with their own knowledge and skills, helping them gain a deeper understanding of social issues and cultivate a passion for improving the lives of others.

In July of this year, Kim designed and led a five-day workshop for primary students at Sunway International School, incorporating design thinking into lesson plans for the first time in Malaysia. He used a framework created by scholars at Harvard University and then used in Korea, where school leaders are constantly looking for creative ways to integrate design thinking into their lesson plans as a long-term learning strategy.

Both Kim and Lim agreed that a high-quality holistic education is needed to give children their best start in life. Our future leaders need life-pioneering, purpose-defining, and survival skills in order to thrive in a world filled with growing uncertainties and surprises. Many schools today are adopting new ways to assess “well-rounded” students. They look for students who are able to focus on a handful of activities they really love, rather than participating in every activity their school offers. Such focused and committed students, even if they do not score a string of A’s, might still be the next great composers or star athletes.

In this way, the 21st-century definition of a well-rounded student contains a slight twist. As some Harvard University experts put it, well-rounded students use their knowledge to serve others in an intelligent and empathetic way, creating solutions and adding value to their society. They are not necessary all-A students, nor can they be expected to be equally strong in all areas, but they specialize in specific areas within a population of students who have varying specialties and interests.

According to Kim, the well-known colleges and universities in the U.S. are less interested in students who try to be perfect in every way, join a dozen clubs, and remain active in sports all year long. They recognize that a student who is a strong writer may not necessarily be a star in Chemistry too.

“We can’t deny that creating a foundation of core academic knowledge and skills is important for students,” said Kim, “but finding ways to help them build confidence in their own abilities is equally important. We need to let the students know that, despite their young age, they can make a difference in their communities, one small step at a time. We need to inspire them to be great collaborators, great communicators, and great innovators, who will create positive change in our world. These are the kinds of students that schools should produce.”

Article published in Dreamic Educational Magazine, 2018.

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