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Could kids help solve our world problems?

What if we threw age out the window for a sec? Why do we cringe at the idea of child work? What concepts do we need to redefine?

Photo of Jun Ng
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I am a.....

  • Learning Designer

Tell us about your idea

Kids have so much to offer, they're creative, and free from notions of reality which limit a lot of our current innovations. They are wonderfully innocent and have the ability to show genuine empathy without much effort. They have so much to contribute. Could we involve them in global projects? Could we connect them with people across the globe to learn about certain topics?

For example, instead of learning about the animals of Africa from a book, could a child in London create a design probe and send it to Africa to learn about it from their perspectives? Could the learning of different methods and practical skills be spread this way? This would not only connect children globally, but also give an appreciation of life from different perspectives. Instead of spending money on textbooks, could that money be sent to that child in Africa for their contribution? Could this help us rethink distribution of wealth? Could it create earning opportunities for the less fortunate? Could it foster collaboration between all those involved (i.e. not just the kids)? Could this build many more bridges for empathy to cross?

Could we involve children in the ideation phases of businesses? Could they get paid? Why do we immediately think child labour when we put the word work and child in the same sentence? Once we think about another big issue of the ageing population, we'll be prompted to think about redistributing work - not just thinking about a future that might be more digital but fully challenging the structure of the concept. If we no longer bucketed age, what would a spectrum of work and learning/school look like?

I think most of the resistance to this idea would come from our current thinking about work – which is often associated as a doing the daily slog. Not a reality I’m excited to send my kids into, are you? Can we change this future projection by changing our definitions?

Here’s the thing. A lot of career dissatisfaction as adults comes from a lack of passion and knowing their purpose. As we get older, time equals money and we have less time to explore. K-12 is the perfect time for kids to explore, tinker and try lots of things to find out what they do and don’t like. But a lot of education is boring, because it lacks context, it falsely puts kids off topics they may have otherwise been interested in.

Involving kids in real world projects, from existing ones, to ones they make up themselves can provide great satisfaction. For example simply learning about recycling by interacting with a country that is hands on involved in the processing, or learning about geology by coming up with their own questions and reaching out to kids globally to find the answers can be fun, build empathy, and drive motivation to learn. Importantly it builds autonomy, confidence, and curiosity.

Kids are way more capable than we give them credit for, providing they have the opportunity. And what an opportunity this would be. To learn that people around the world are all different, look different, talk different, have different homes and ways of doing things and that they can collaborate together to achieve something they decide to do together for the good of everyone.

My mom always tells me, 'When the student is ready, the teacher arrives'. Knowledge follows interest and passion. Providing lots of mini opportunities, and ways to get involved in real situations could bring skills like literacy and numeracy to life for a lot of kids. And importantly, show them they are important, highly valued citizens.

6 years is not an insignificant chunk of time. Early childhood experiences have a disproportionate influence on shaping a person. The question is - what do we want to achieve in those 6 years?

What part(s) of the pre-COVID school system do you wish to leave in the past? Why?

This situation of Covid liberates us from the four walls of a local classroom. It allows us to explore the idea of global students, challenge the meaning of K-12 education, rethink infrastructure, and the idea of a teacher, and shake the notion of work. We basically get a blank canvas to think about what would be most beneficial to our young ones for a significant 6 or so years of their lives. Which I belief should include an opportunity to explore as much variety as possible. I'd love to leave behind the restrictions of who or what kids can learn from. The idea that school resources come from specific places, when actually we could rethink the distribution of money if we learned from other sources which could significantly make life in other parts of the world better. And the lack of practical relevance when teaching topics like numeracy and literacy.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and what inspired you to share this idea.

I work in learning design, my role is to not produce training, but to facilitate the act of making connections between a problem and potential resource.

Experience design for me is more about generating curiosity and portray relevance to encourage self sufficiency, resourcefulness and exploration. I think an essential skill in life is problem solving, kids are extremely capable of this given the right environment.

I am currently also doing a masters in healthcare and design and exploring speculative design - which makes me wonder about a possible alternative future to education, work, and other big world topics. Thinking about this holistically made me realise how significant this area of reimagining learning has on the whole system. It'd be incredible to play a part in shaping this. The future can be so exciting! And it starts with our children.

What region are you located in?

  • Europe

Where are you located?

I currently live in London in the United Kingdom, but grew up in New Zealand. I'm fortunate to be immersed in a community of dreamers and designers at the Royal College of Arts, but at the same time work in corporate consulting, which gives interesting perspectives on the reality we're in, and the one we want to create.

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Photo of Sara Wolcott
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I like the idea of kids contributing to global challenges and focusing on exploring to find purpose.