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Life Readiness Education for a World in Crisis

Updated: Dec 15, 2021

Phil. S. Jarvis & Howard. B. Esbin

Introduction

In 2010, Education Canada published our co-authored article entitled “Getting Serious Play: Life Span Career Education." We then wrote: “Mastering … academic skills in isolation are insufficient preparation for meaningful lives and livelihoods. Tellingly, most high school students are unsure why they are learning what they are learning. Nor do most feel prepared for further schooling or employment. Too many high school grads don't have goals to which they are emotionally committed. About a third go directly to university or college, erroneously hoping to discover their vocation through further study. Too few select apprenticeships or trades training.


Moreover, this essential lack of self-knowledge and vision often continues well into adulthood. Among working adults, 69 percent acknowledge that they did not know enough about their original work choices. No wonder that 70 percent are not fully engaged today, with all this implies for these individuals and society.


Canadian teachers and counselors are at the forefront of an international collaboration called Life Span Career Development Education. They've been helping students better understand themselves, their aspirations, and possible future pathways for the past decade. Practitioners are not advocating a new educational model. Instead, they want to foster a fresh perspective that enables students to see their lives whole and in context. This, in turn, helps students to understand better who they are, what assets, capacities, and skills they have, and where they might like to go in life.


"Like a plant that grows in the direction of the light source, individuals and groups strive to grow towards the positive image they hold." This process has been called the heliotropic effect. It becomes potent when groups ‘Imagineer’ their futures together. The more students experience life span career education and learn imagineering principles and practices, the more we will see a social awakening, a sharing of dreams, and pooling of energies to create a better, fairer, and more sustainable world.”

Our unheeded call to action is even more urgent today. That is, to reframe and refocus educational experience from reductionism to holism. From learning individual "subjects" and passing exams to becoming “life ready” to survive and thrive in a global era of crisis; and forge a better way forward for humanity and our planet.


Global Crises


A triple global crisis envelops humanity. The 2020 pandemic is still raging at this writing after 24 months.[1] Concurrently, global warming is accelerating, causing immense environmental disasters. The scale of worldwide human suffering and dislocation is dire.[2]


The pandemic has profoundly altered the nature of work. Those who can work online do. Many corporations have allowed their employees to work remotely permanently. In 2018, "3.6% of the U.S. workforce" worked from home. By the end of 2021, this will likely involve "25-30% of the workforce."[3] Individuals who perform manual work or require face-to-face physical contact remain more at risk.


Against this pandemic backdrop, automation and robotics are causing enormous job loss and skill obsolescence. A 2017 McKinsey Study estimated that “about half the world's workforce "could potentially be automated by adapting currently demonstrated technologies."[4] This global industrial trend causes even more significant economic disparity and social injustice resulting in widespread suffering and dislocation.

Loss of livelihood is devastating financially and psychologically. That's "because people's identity revolves around our jobs," as noted by Vivek Wadhwa. a Distinguished Fellow at Harvard Law School's Labor and Worklife Program. Even worse, "as algorithms push humans out of the job market … wealth and power might become concentrated in the hands of the tiny elite that owns the all-powerful algorithms, creating unprecedented social and political inequality."[5]


Society's overall institutional response to this global health, climate, and economic crisis is a "triple failure of imagination."[6]


Mainstream Education

Mainstream education is not preparing youth for their lives as adults during this unprecedented era. Young people understand the world they’re inheriting and want to engage now. The example of Greta Thunberg illustrates this polarization. In August 2018, Greta, a 15-year-old student, skipped school to protest environmental inaction outside the Swedish Parliament. She had printed leaflets stating: “We kids most often don’t do what you tell us to do. We do as you do. And since you grown-ups don’t give a shit about my future, I won’t either. My name is Greta.”[7] Her action and words went viral through social media.


March 15, 2019 … one million children turned out in 2,200 strikes across 125 counties. By September 20 that year, the number had grown to four million protesters, still mostly children.”[8] In August 2019, the United Nations invited Greta to address its Climate Action Summit in New York. She said, "we are at the beginning of mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth … You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words."[9]


Consider that Greta Thunberg could have gone to school, sitting in a classroom learning by rote instead of standing on the world stage learning by experience, and changing the world! Traditional schooling requires students to learn discrete academic subjects, whether they understand why or not. Students are evaluated mainly with standardized testing and grading to prepare them for college and university. A student’s school transcript and grade average are the primary determinants.


Consequently, “pe-pandemic, school leavers … began their career unemployed or in a precarious, low-wage, no benefits job unrelated to their studies and interests, with a sinking feeling that they were led astray and were not ready for life beyond school. Those who graduate into underemployment are five times more likely to remain stuck in mismatched jobs after five years compared with those who start in a college-level job … Those now in their first year beyond school are facing even more COVID-19 inflicted danger, difficulty, and disappointment.”[10]


Global Life Readiness

In a Life-Ready Curriculum, academics play a vital part but are not the whole of a student's education. The goal is to empower youth with the knowledge, experience, and skills to adapt to and flourish within changing life and work circumstances. In other words, to develop a mindset and skillset that is adaptable, creative, resilient, and team-based.

Life-ready curriculum centers around team projects, typically aligned with issues about which students care deeply. Teams may be students in the same class, or multi-age, involving courses in other grades or subjects, local university or college students, or parents and community members dealing with local issues the project addresses. Teams can also collaborate with teams with similar interests in other regions or countries.


The United Nations organizations such as UNESCO, WHO, and UNICEF adopted a framework of “ten core life skill strategies and techniques” essential for developing life-ready students.[11] These ten factors are problem-solving, critical thinking, effective communication skills, decision-making, creative thinking, interpersonal relationship skills, self-awareness building skills, empathy, and coping with stress and emotions. “For UNICEF life skills are part of a rights-based approach to learning. Children are fundamentally entitled to quality education that respects their dignity and expands their abilities to live a life they value and to transform the societies in which they live..”[12]


A variety of schools offer life readiness programs for all ages, from 5 years old. The following are a few inspiring examples.


Roots of Empathy

“Roots of Empathy is an international, evidence and empathy-based classroom program designed for children ages 5 to 13.” During this pandemic, the organization transformed its “baby-on-a-blanket” in a classroom to a “baby-on-a-screen” “We realized the children were more stressed and anxious than we’d ever seen before. Their lives have been turned upside down. We were seeing poor mental health and well-being. So, Roots of Empathy gave children the opportunity to make sense of what is happening to their lives. Together with the children, we spoke about loss of friendships, of seeing relatives, loneliness and stress. The teachers reported improvements in children’s emotional well-being as they were given opportunities to express how they were feeling in discussion, through their art and through letters that they wrote to the Roots of Empathy baby. These letters to their baby explained to the baby what life was like in the first year of their lives. This cohort of babies, born during the pandemic is referred to as Gen C (Corona Virus).”[13]


Life-Based Learning Forum

The Life-Based Learning Model empowers primary school children to build self-awareness, strengthen interpersonal relations, and better understand their connection to the environment and planet. Interested parents, educators, and other professional change-makers can join the online forum without cost. The platform provides opportunities throughout the year for sharing new research, insights, and opportunities for dialogue and action.[14]


L.S.F. (Learning for a Sustainable Future)

L.S.F. is a Canadian nonprofit organization that promotes the integration of sustainability into Canada’s education system. This work uses a model similar to the U.N.s framework. L.S.F.'s Seven Strategies include: "Learning Locally – Community as Classroom, Integrated Learning, Acting on Learning, Real-World Connections, Considering Alternative Perspectives, Inquiry, and Sharing Responsibility for Learning with Students.”[15]


PowerSchool

PowerSchool is an education company that developed its own life-readiness framework, now used in 10,000 schools. This framework includes social-emotional learning, interpersonal skills, academic skills, career knowledge, college knowledge, and transition skills.[16]


U.N. Sustainable Development Goals & Global Life Readiness

In 2015, the United Nations introduced a set of 17 sustainable development goals referred to as "S.D.G.s." These goals focus "on ending poverty, protecting the planet and ensuring peace and prosperity around the globe by 2030. The 17 S.D.G.s are integrated—they recognize that action in one area will affect outcomes in others, and that development must balance social, economic and environmental sustainability. Countries have committed to prioritize progress for those who're furthest behind. The S.D.G.s are designed to end poverty, hunger, AIDS, and discrimination against women and girls. The creativity, knowhow, technology and financial resources from all of society is necessary to achieve the S.D.G.s in every context." [17]


A growing number of educational programs combine life-readiness with addressing these 17 S.D.G.s. These global challenges are relevant in every community in the world and encompass every vocation a young person might imagine. Contextualizing learning using the S.D.G. framework dramatically increases student engagement. The following are three program examples.


The World’s Largest Lesson

This nonprofit organization features "creative tools for educators and action focused learning experiences for children and young people that build skills and motivation to take action for the S.D.G.s."[18] These "resources are free, open source and translated into over 30 languages." The organization also advocates "the widespread use of the Goals through formal education systems."[19]


#TeachSDGs

#TeachSDGs is a volunteer led nonprofit organization. Its members “advance the work of the UN in relation to education through advocacy and outreach to inform K-12 and higher education stakeholders, defined as educators, students, parents, and community members.” This includes showcasing “open and accessible resources, lesson plans, and global projects directly aligned to the Sustainable Development Goals.”


Discover Your Unique # S.D.G. Talent

Adam Rogers, an author, and U.N. Strategic Communications Advisor, launched this initiative in tandem with his new publication. The goal is for young people to discover their unique talent "to make the world a better place for everyone, everywhere. No one can tell you what your talent is; you must discover it for yourself. Most talents are best used locally, perhaps improving the life of just one person or small group of people. Sometimes you can take your local experiences and contribute to global solutions through social media and the internet. Sometimes you can reach out and inspire someone halfway around the globe to take the same actions you did to reach out and improve a life or situation locally. We each hold a piece of a giant puzzle, a puzzle that will never be solved or complete until each of us knows where we fit into the big picture."[20]


I.B. Learner Profile Attributes and S.D.G.s

The International Baccalaureate (I.B.) program is in five thousand schools in 140 nations. This program enables students to identify and align 10 Core Attributes with specific S.D.G.s they want to address and help solve. Chris Gadbury, a U.K.-based art teacher, has creatively illustrated this alignment in the image below.[21]


Just Imagine

In 2019, Nesta, a British foundation, published “Imagination unleashed. Democratising the knowledge economy.” [22] Nesta promotes innovation across sectors through “programmes, investment, policy and research, and the formation of partnerships.”[23] The report boldly asserts: "We must equip citizens … through a lifelong education system that … prioritises the power of the Imagination… Acquiring knowledge is necessary, but not sufficient. Students need to be able to critically … imagine ways in which their knowledge could be applied."[24]


“The moral imagination—seeing the world from different stances to envision a wider spectrum of possibilities for a post-COVID-19 world—requires us to examine how problems and their solutions are framed.”[25] Dr. John Paul Lederach working in global peacekeeping writes. “Nature is not just a backdrop to social imagination and change; it actively shapes what can be and is imagined.”[26] In other words, ours is a “social– ecological imagination.” [27] This "rift' between humans and the earth" affords immense potential for visionary transformation. “In its scale, scope, and complexity, (this) transformation will be unlike anything humankind has experienced before … One thing is clear: the response to it must be integrated and comprehensive, involving all stakeholders of the global polity, from the public and private sectors to academia and civil society.”[28][29]

Imagination is central throughout the global life readiness curriculum. This transformative facility is essential for developing character, soft skills, project teaming, academic knowledge, and planetary stewardship. Being life-ready is a constantly evolving state of mind. It means being ready for lifelong learning, meaningful work, fulfilling relations, and engaged world citizens.


Our Collaboration


Phil S. Jarvis

In 2010, Phil was then vice president of global partnerships for The Real Game Series (T.R.G.S.). Offered by the National LifeWork Centre, T.R.G.S. was used in 100,000+ classrooms and supported by 12 national governments. The program involved the entire class of students entering into a simulated learning experience involving Imagination and role-playing.


Students, teachers, parents, and businesses participated in becoming an imaginary community with thriving enterprises. Students were assigned roles as adult employees. Each student had responsibilities, a salary, and a home life. They all had to learn how to manage their work and lives by budgeting time, priorities, values, and money (Typically taken for granted by youth who don’t understand how challenging it is to be adult parents). During the simulation, someone in every neighborhood loses their job through economic or natural circumstances beyond their control. This simulation immerses students in even more challenging learning situations as they put their heads together to help their neighbors.


The Real Game Series was far ahead of its time with universally positive results. The program proved that collaborative, project-based, real-world learning works. Students everywhere care about their future and will become profoundly and happily engaged in imagining and role-playing diverse career and lifestyle possibilities. They learn richly from their personal vicarious experiences and those of their teammates. They engage naturally in imagining and role-playing diverse career and lifestyle possibilities, making difficult decisions, dealing with the consequences, and collaborating as neighbors and business colleagues.


Having led several pan-Canadian and international partnerships to help students imagine the future they want to create, Phil is now the chief executive officer of ReImaginED, which advocates the adoption of a life-ready curriculum. In his volunteer role as President of Irishtown Specialty Lions Club, Inc., Phil is leading the development of the Greater Moncton Skills Centre of Excellence, Inc. (the Skills Centre) is a registered not-for-profit New Brunswick corporation. The envisioned facility is 100,000 square feet and will “have at least 20 training stations equipped with the very latest and best tools, equipment, and technologies, with classrooms and meeting rooms, and an auditorium for presentations, graduation ceremonies, etc.”[30] The Skills Center’s goal is “to transition at least 200 people not in school or work to full-time jobs, apprenticeships, or specialized training each year. When fully up-to-speed this facility is projected to generate about $100 million annually in new consumer spending, increased employer productivity, increased tax revenues, and reduced remediation costs.”[31] https://www.philjarvis.ca


Howard B. Esbin, Ph.D.

In 2010, Howard was a new social entrepreneur. He’d developed a student learning game. This game was a blended learning product that fostered soft skills, including teamwork and creativity. At the time, Howard and Phil were exploring whether their two learning games might be packaged and promoted together. Phil thought Howard’s learning game would be an ideal “prelude” to The Real Game Series. In fact, “Prelude” became its brand name.

Prelude was piloted and then licensed to school districts in Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, New York, Florida, and Pennsylvania and youth-serving agencies such as Junior Achievement and Canada World Youth during the next three years. It proved particularly effective with youth characterized as at risk.


In 2012, the Software Information Industry Association (S.I.I.A.) selected Prelude as one of that year’s most “innovative relevant new Ed tech products.” That same year, Curriculum Services Canada also awarded Prelude its hard-earned Seal of Quality for use in all provinces and territories. Some 25,000 students have experienced Prelude across diverse cultures and settings.


Throughout 2012 and the following years, the K12 education sector continued extreme cost-cutting measures regarding licensing products like ours. While Prelude was a critical success, commercial viability proved difficult. In 2011, the Bellwether Foundation released “Steering Capital: Optimizing Financial Support for Innovation in Public Education.” It referred to the education market as ‘irrational’ and ‘unpredictable.’[32]. A 2012 article echoes the same perspective. “These pressures mean it can take years to get the kind of “hockey-stick” growth that sometimes happens in other markets … Most of today’s education technology startups are doomed to fail.”[33]


Many educators, principals, and superintendents thought Prelude could be as valuable for staff training as for students. The resource was redesigned and successfully piloted for workplace use. Again Prelude proved to be highly effective with adults. The advent of virtual teaming pointed the way forward—the first online version launched in 2017. Since then, hundreds of virtual project teams across sectors have benefited from their A.S.T. experience. In 2020, Prelude was rebranded as “All Star Teams” and is now available on digital whiteboards like MURAL, Miro, Lucidspark, and Microsoft Teams. https://allstarteams.com


Next Steps


Phil and Howard are now planning to bring All Star Teams (A.S.T.) back to school again in a new Global Life Readiness Edition for use together by students, teachers, and parents. This holistic strengths-based experiential learning platform supports:

  • Project-Based Learning (Virtual – Hybrid – Traditional Classrooms)

  • Positive Youth Development

  • Sustainable Development Goals

For more information please contact:

  • https://www.philjarvis.ca/contact

  • https://allstarteams.com/contact/

Getting Serious Play: Life Span Career Education, H.B. Esbin & P. Jarvis, March 2010 Article. Education Canada Vol. 46 (3) Canadian Education Association (www.cea-ace.ca)

References

  • Education at a Glance: 2004 O.E.C.D. Report. http://www.oecd.org

  • P. Jarvis, The Changing Face of Career Development (National Consultation on Career Development (N.A.T.C.O.N.), 2006). http://www.natcon.org/natcon/

  • Skills Competencies Canada (Conference Board of Canada, Human Resources and Social Development, 2006).

  • National Survey of Working America (National Career Development Association and The Gallup Organization, 1999). http://www.ncda.org/pdf/gallupwhitepaper.pdf

  • www.seriousgames.org

  • M. McMahon, W. Patton and P. Tatham, Managing Life, Learning and Work in the 21st Century (Subiaco, Western Australia: Miles Morgan Australia, 2003).

Footnotes

[1] Close to 4 million people have died, and about 180 million people diagnosed with the virus.

[2] The coronavirus and wildlife: What’s the connection? March 2020, https://www.worldanimalprotection.ca/

[3] Every Company Going Remote Permanently: October 11, 2021 UPDATE, https://buildremote.co/companies/companies-going-remote-permanently/

[4] Tech world debate on robots and jobs heats up, March 30, 2017, https://gulfnews.com/technology/tech-world-debate-on-robots-and-jobs-heats-up-1.2001645 https://gulfnews.com/technology/tech-world-debate-on-robots-and-jobs-heats-up-1.2001645

[5] Ibid.

[6] Michele-Lee Moore, Manjana Milkoreit, Imagination and transformations to sustainable and just futures, Elementa: Science of the Anthropocene (2020) 8 (1): 081., https://doi.org/10.1525/elementa.2020.081

[7] Greta Thunberg is going back to school. What has she achieved in two years? https://www.irishtimes.com/life-and-style/people/greta-thunberg-is-going-back-to-school-what-has-she-achieved-in-two-years-1.4340157

[8] Ibid.

[9] Greta Thunberg was right: There is an alternative to 'eternal economic growth,' Don Pittis, C.B.C. News · Posted: September 26, 2019, 4:00 AM E, https://www.cbc.ca/news/business/business-climate-strike-1.5293916https://www.cbc.ca/news/business/business-climate-strike-1.5293916.

[10] https://cica.org.au/wp-content/uploads/School-to-Work-Transitions-A-Scoping-Review-

FINAL.pdf

[11] http://www.ibe.unesco.org/en/glossary-curriculum-terminology/l/life-skills

[12] Ibid.

[13] https://rootsofempathy.org/the-roots-of-empathy-pandemic-story/

[14] lifebasedlearningforum.com

[15] https://lsf-lst.ca/resources/connecting-the-dots/

[16] https://www.powerschool.com

[17] Sustainable Development Goals | United Nations Development Programme, https://www.undp.org/sustainable-development-goals

[18] https://worldslargestlesson.globalgoals.org

[19] Ibid.

[20] Preface: Connecting the Dots. Taking Action Online for the environment, social justice and sustainable development, https://www.adamrogers.online/takingactiononline-preface

[21] https://www.magicstorybooks.com

[22] https://www.oecd.org/naec/projects/Imagination_unleashed Democratising_the_knowledge_economy.pdf

[23] Formerly N.E.S.T.A., (National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts) is an innovation foundation based in the UK., Nesta (charity) – Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nesta_(charity)

[24] https://www.oecd.org/naec/projects/Imagination_unleashed Democratising_the_knowledge_economy.pdf

[25] COVID-19 and the Moral Imagination - The Lancet, https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(21)00151-3/fulltext?rss=yes

[26] Michele-Lee Moore, Manjana Milkoreit; Imagination and transformations to sustainable and just futures. Elementa: Science of the Anthropocene November 2, 2020; 8 (1): 081. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1525/elementa.2020.081

[27] Ibid.

[28] Klaus Schwab, The Fourth Industrial Revolution: what it means, how to respond, January 14, 2016, https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/01/the-fourth-industrial-revolution-what-it-means-and-how-to-respond/

[29] Klaus Schwab, The Fourth Industrial Revolution: what it means, how to respond, January 14, 2016, https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/01/the-fourth-industrial-revolution-what-it-means-and-how-to-respond/

[30] https://www.philjarvis.ca/

[31] Ibid.

[32] Steering Capital: Optimizing Financial Support for Innovation in Public Education | Bellwether Education Partners, https://bellwethereducation.org/publication/steering-capital-optimizing-financial-support-innovation-public-education

[33] James Byers, Adam Frey, How to Succeed in Education Technology | EdSurge News, November 27, 2012, https://www.edsurge.com/news/how-to-succeed-in-ed-tech

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