The Times, They Are A-Changin’

In these uncertain times, we must be willing to evolve—or risk obsolescence. Problem is, how do you communicate this to seven-year-olds?


AsianScientist (Apr. 11, 2016) – One of best things about parenting a science-obsessed child is that I end up processing a lot of trivia that would make me a pretty useful member of a quiz team.

Fact #27,892 that I have learnt from my seven-year-old son, Jordan: The night sky we see is actually based in the past.

As he puts it, “Light takes million of years to travel to Earth, so light from these ancient stars is just reaching us.”

More mind-blowing facts? Some stars in distant galaxies that are visible through powerful telescopes are already dead. So the light we see now? It doesn’t exist in real time.

This brought to mind an alarming finding from a recent report by an Australian non-profit which found that 60 percent of students are training for jobs that will not exist in the future or will be made obsolete by new technologies. The key economic drivers responsible for these rapid changes? Automation, globalization and collaboration.

Another study, done in 2010 by the University of Melbourne, found that the amount of new technical information was doubling every two years. Put simply, for students starting a four-year technical or college degree program, half of what they learn in their first year of study will be outdated by their third year of study.

Educating for jobs that don’t exist yet

What has happened this past year in my family embodies this startling trend. My husband and I, two Arts graduates living in a small city at the edge of the world, have both found ourselves (by coincidence) to be working in the field of genetics.

Ten years ago our jobs would have been almost unrecognizable from their current forms. Both depend a great deal on reaching communities through social media which, hard though it is to remember given its total invasion of our lives, is hardly a decade old. And we need to communicate science that, while much older than social media, has advanced at a surprising speed during the same period.

So, while we might take heart at the next generation’s ‘native’ digital skills, their ability to masterfully navigate several apps at once across tablets, consoles and laptops might not be the skill that carries them into the future. For example, Jordan currently loves to make and share presentations on Google Docs, and is learning how to code using Minecraft. But who would be surprised if both of these tools will also have evolved beyond recognition in five or ten years.

My social media timelines are filled with exhortations to adapt, mostly along the lines of Jeff Bezos’ ominous warning “What’s dangerous is not to evolve.” How do I make the idea that you have to change or risk obsolescence sound less menacing to a seven-year-old?

It makes me pause and wonder a) what the world will look like when he is ready to go solve one of the many problems his generation will no doubt face; and b) what advice I can give him to help him prepare for the hyper-evolution of the future.

Schools are also puzzling over how to prepare their students for the future. The principal at my son’s primary school recently gave a talk to help parents understand why it was important to embrace technology ion the classroom, even if it differed significantly from how things were done ‘in the good old days.’

“What you went through in the 1980s and 90s? That doesn’t apply to your kids,” he said to us.

He went on to affirm what many experts have emphasized, that education is no longer about training for a particular skill, but learning how to think.

All well and good within the classroom, I thought. But what can I actively do as a parent outside of school to help ready my kids for what lies ahead?

For that, I have to look back, ‘Circle of Life’-style, at what came before.

Future-proofing our kids

I went to university in the mid-1990s, and lived through the wonderment of the early days of the Internet. Family folklore has it that my parents were one of the first 50 subscribers to Singapore’s first Internet service. They were excited about a new technology my older sister, who was then studying in the US, told them about: email.

My parents have always been open to new ideas and paradigms—they truly are lifelong learners. My self-confessed technophobe dad taught himself to blog at the age of 60.

With the patience that the generation of instant customer support might struggle to muster, he would stay up all night to troubleshoot problems with his blog and his printer. Now he teaches other seniors to blog. He also holds the local record for non-stop ukelele playing, but that’s another story for another time.

They have shown me that the key to future-proofing yourself is to remain open-minded and curious, no matter how uncomfortable it might be.

So, as a parent to a science-obsessed older son, and his train-obsessed younger brother, I realize that one of the most important things I can do is make forging their own way through new hobbies and down new roads a habit of life.

Whether it is exploring a stronghold in Minecraft, taking photos of fungi in the Autumn, or playing Spinosaurus vs. T. Rex Death Match, do it. Ask questions. Have fun. And never stop finding new things to have fun with.

To quote Bob Dylan:

Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don’t criticize
What you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is rapidly agin’
Please get out of the new one
If you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin’

This article is from a monthly column called Mushroom Mum. Click here to see the other articles in this series.


Copyright: Asian Scientist Magazine; Photo: Shutterstock.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.

Dora Yip lives in Dunedin, New Zealand, and is mom to six-year-old Jordan and two-year-old Jonah.

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