Yuval Noah Harari is an Oxford-educated historian, who teaches world history at Hebrew University, in Jerusalem. He is the author of two acclaimed books Sapiens and Homo Deus. One of my two smart nephews, who went to IIM Bangalore, on our rare visit to the Crosswords bookstore, gifted me a copy of Harari’s third book – 21 Lessons for the 21st Century.
The author is amazing in his scope and intelligence. One is reminded of the anthropologist Joseph Campbell who knew the myths of all the people in the world. Harari is certain that the stories that people hold on to are losing their power. An alternative world view to replacing the liberal democracy view has not arrived in time. He maintains his sense of humour about the dark future of mankind with unique dignity, and that can be quite engaging to some readers. The ranting is controlled, and without sharing his anger with the reader, which some of the recent events must have definitely caused someone so concerned with the fate of the world. The topics he has written essays about are Disillusionment, work, Liberty, Equality, Community, Civilisation, Nationalism, Religion, Immigration, Terrorism, War, Humility, God, Secularism, Ignorance, Justice, Post-Truth, Science Fiction, Education, Meaning, and Meditation.
The 19th out of these 21 lessons, is on education. Since I am in the teaching line, I thought I would pull it out of the deck and mention in this blog, what I thought of it. The subtitle of the essay is “Change is the only constant”. The thesis is not very difficult to grasp: the traditional classroom, with tables and chairs, and teachers and hourly bells, that is a vivid image of the 20th century, has crumbled in the face of technological advances. Online courses and search engines have a significant presence, even if one or two students eschew using them. The skills learnt slowly over years, may have to compete with Artificial Intelligence and machine learning. He warns of computers that know you better than yourself, and the consequences wherein they can influence your decision making in the marketplace. He criticizes the emphasis on technical education
The adaptation to these cultural changes is slow to spread out to the whole world, and the emerging economies will have to reach out for the changes, and not wait for it to trickle down the colonial grapevine. Students must learn the 4Cs – critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity. They must not rely too much on adults, who may be old school and trained to program in the C language or solve differential equations.
The main point he is trying to make is that the future has become harder to predict, then it was a hundred years ago, and education beyond reading, writing and arithmetic, should be geared to accept this uncertainty.