WHAT should students learn for the 21st Century?

Luminaries answer CCR’s seminal question


Howard Gardner

Howard Gardner

Professor of Cognition and Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education at Harvard University

Five Minds for the Future

In the 21st century, four forces will change the face of education all over the world:

  • Globalization—the movement of ideas, money, practices, brands, and persons around the planet
  • The Biological Revolution—our increased understanding of the brain and of genetics will have direct implications for education, particularly of individuals with special needs
  • The Digital Revolution—the internet, the web, social media, multiuser games, virtual realities, and intelligent machines will make knowledge easily accessible but also subject it to vast changes, not all of them constructive
  • Lifelong learning—any notion that education ends when school ends is anachronistic. In fact, as long as individuals want to remain active, they will need to keep growing intellectually.

In light of these and other changes, it will be important to develop five kinds of minds, both in school and in other educational environments:

  • The disciplined mind has mastered one or more professions, arts, crafts, or disciplines. It takes about a decade to achieve such mastery. Absent such mastery, an individual will be unable to occupy a meaningful niche in any developed society. Discipline also entails the capacity to continue one’s own growth after the cessation of formal education.
  • The synthesizing mind is likely to be the most coveted in the modern era, where we are all deluged with information, much of it of dubious value.  The synthesizing mind determines what is important, and what is fluff; it then takes the crucial information and organizes it in ways that are useful to the synthesizer and, optimally, to chosen audiences.
  • The creating mind thinks outside the box. We live in an era where everything that can be automated will be.  Only those individuals who can regularly go beyond the conventional wisdom will be valued.  While cognitive capacities are obviously valuable for creating, only those of a robust, risk-taking personality and temperament are likely to pursue a creative path.
  • The respectful mind is becoming essential in a world of diverse individuals and populations, who are in regular contact with one another, either face-to-face or in cyberspace. Going beyond mere tolerance, a respectful person seeks to understand others, to work with them, to instill a respectful environment at work and in the community.
  • The ethical mind requires an abstract attitude. The individual develops a concept of him or herself as a person, a worker, and a citizen.  Ethics involves a sense of purpose and mission, an open delineation of rights and responsibilities, and a preparedness to act in light of these principles, even when such action goes against one’s self interest.

While individuals may differ in their strengths and proclivities, optimally each person will develop the full complement of minds. Formal education and formal educational institutions will continue to be crucial but much of education will occur via distance learning, networks of individuals or groups, or self-instruction.

Copyright 2012 – Howard Gardner