Reimagining Education in the Exponential Age

The future of humanity will be radically different than what we see today. As Ray Kurzweil put it, “We won’t experience 100 years of progress in the 21st century—it will be more like 20,000 years of progress (at today’s rate).” We’ll have the potential to live on Mars, connect our minds to machines, and access an abundance of resources.

But is our youth prepared to live in such a world? Are we equipping them with the skills and values necessary to be adaptable, innovative, and purpose-driven in such a world?

Our traditional, industrial-era educational models are simply outdated. What is required is not an incremental change in education, but rather an entire overhaul of the current system. It will take creative imagination to develop new models for 21st-century education.

This is where innovators in education like Rohan Roberts come into the picture. In his groundbreaking new book Cosmic Citizens and Moonshot Thinking: Education in an Age of Exponential Technologies, Roberts takes a fresh approach to what we need to do differently to prepare our children for the future. As an award-winning educator and innovation leader at GEMS Education (the world’s largest private education provider), his ideas are supported by decades of interactions with corporate leaders, interviews with principals, meetings with parents, and surveys of students.

In an interview with Singularity Hub, Roberts reimagined the future of education and stressed the importance of fostering a sense of cosmic wonder when contemplating human purpose and human existence.

Raya Bidshahri: We’re living through a world of accelerating change due to exponential technologies. What do we need to do differently in our schools to keep up with disruptive innovation?

Rohan Roberts: In a world of increased automation and ubiquitous AI, we will see a merger between humans and machines. There is every reason to celebrate the sophisticated capabilities of today’s emerging technologies. These new human-machine collaborations will usher in a future in which humans and machines build on their mutual strengths to contribute staggering improvement to the conditions for everyday living.

Classifying the skills that machines should bring to the table and what humans should contribute to the partnership is key. At the very least, we’ve got to raise awareness of the impact of exponential technologies, teach students how to develop an abundance mindset in a world of accelerating change, and help them leverage these emerging tools to solve the grand challenges facing our species.

RB: In your opinion, what are some key features of innovative curriculum? What skills, values, and mindsets should we be teaching?

RR: Any curriculum worth its salt would focus not on content but on developing critical survival skills, such as leading by influence, agility and adaptability, initiative and entrepreneurship, effective communication, analyzing information, and curiosity and imagination. In an age of fake news and alternative facts, we ought to focus on teaching our youth to distinguish between information, misinformation, disinformation, and propaganda.

We’d need to focus on future fluencies that are based on problem solving, creativity, digital citizenship, media, and collaboration across networks.

RB: You point out that education is starting to be treated more like a science than an art. How are neuroscience and mind-brain education shaping teaching?

RR: Brain mapping and brain scanning are now exponential technologies. We’ve learned more about the human brain in the last 10 years than we have in all the previous centuries combined. We live in a special time where neuroscience, cognitive science, behavioral psychology, and pedagogy are starting to intertwine in the field of neuroeducation or mind-brain education.

RB: In a future of technological automation and increasing digitization, how do you see teachers’ roles changing?

RR: The 21st-century teacher will be more of a guide-on-the-side than a sage-on-stage. Students today have access to tremendous computing power and information. The days of the teacher as subject expert and fount of information are numbered. In addition to being cross-curricular specialists, teachers will need to be guides, counselors, mentors, and facilitators.

RB: You explore the idea of school as a ritual. What will the school of the future look like?

RR: In the school of the future we’d see various trends: AI-driven learning concierges, credentialing on the blockchain, multiple learning pathways, micro-courses, VR- and AR-based immersive environments, the use of nootropics, and learning playlists focused on individual interests.

Ultimately, I see the school of the future as a space-independent institution that is focused on robot-proofing our youth and helping them leverage technology in ways that can help solve the grand challenges facing our species.

RB: You also explore the idea of cosmic citizenship and fostering a sense of awe and wonder in education. Why is this an impactful approach to education?

RR: Humanity now stands on the cusp of great things. But Humanity 2.0 cannot just be about a bio-physical upgrade. It has to include a moral and ethical upgrade as well.

If we acknowledge that human destiny is to become a multi-planetary species and that our future lies in the stars, then we’ve got to start training our students to have discussions about who we are, where we are headed, and what we want to be. If we are to broaden our intellectual horizons and upgrade our physical limitations, then it is imperative that we start having these conversations in our schools.

We’ve got to be preparing our students to take a cosmic perspective, be aware of the dangers and opportunities associated with transhumanism, and explore what our next steps should be as we take conscious control of our evolution.

Image Credit: KC Jan /

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Raya Bidshahri
Raya Bidshahri
Raya is the Founder & CEO of Awecademy, an online platform that gives young minds the opportunity to learn, connect and contribute to human progress. She is a writer and regular speaker on the topics of innovative education, the future of work and the effects of exponential technologies on society.
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