ⓔ Education for the Future – Which Skills Will Be Essential for 2050?

Interview with Kolbrún Pálsdottr

With technology developing faster than ever the world of working is changing too. In order to keep up with the challenges of the future, education must adapt to the new environment. But which changes are necessary and which skills will be essential for the next 30 years?

In my interview with Kolbrún Pálsdóttr I wanted to find out how the world of education will have to change in the next three decades, in a world with artificial intelligence, automation and evolving technology. What do young people will have to learn in order to be ready for 2050?


Dieser Artikel ist erstmals am 1. September 2020 im internationalen Youth Time Magazine erschienen. Das Interview habe ich am 11. August 2020 im Rahmen der Youth Time Summer School 2020 in Reykjavík geführt.
This article was originally published on September 11, 2020 on the international Youth Time Magazine. I conducted the interview on August 11, 2020 as part of Youth Time Summer School 2020 in Reykjavík.



The role of non-formal education

Kolbrún Pálsdóttr is Dean of the School of Education at the University of Iceland in Reykjavík and researches on formal and non-formal education. Pálsdóttr describes non-formal learning as “all the learning that we experience both in daily life and also in structured programmes like outer school programmes, youth activities, etcetera”. As people start learning very early in their lives, they first experience non-formal education, until they start going to school and they get introduced to formal education. However, also grownups keep learning in non-formal ways, as Kolbrún Pálsdóttr states: “Non-formal learning offers young people, students and people of all ages the possibility to be really participates in their own learning.” Due to their “intrinsic drive to learn” using all of their capabilities and sensory motor skills to learn new things and get information, many appreciate the non-formal education, which makes lifelong learners out of them. “It kind of happens everywhere”, she answers, when asked after the way non-formal education takes place. The Dean believes that the combination of formal and non-formal education is very important and that “we need to be aware of it to make better use and to connect it to formal learning.”

Increasing use of technology in educational context

During the last past months Kolbrún Pálsdóttr could detect many changes from educational institutes of their ways of teaching and an increasing use of technology for educational purposes: “We have fasten forwarded like a decade, at least.” She believes that there will be much more ways of making use of technology and that with its help new doors could be open. “I am also hopeful that we can use this opportunity to really explore, how has it gone, what has been successful and what do we really want to keep in the system and in our ways of working.”, Pálsdóttr ads. 

“Education is a reciprocal relationship”

Pálsdottr thinks the involvement of students in the learning process is key to a successful education, since “education is a reciprocal relationship between an individual and the teacher, his fellow students and the whole environment”. In her eyes this “just opens up a whole new level of possibility for interaction, for sharing data, for collaboration, both on a local and international level”. Although Kolbrún Pálsdóttr recognises that the difficult times of corona have been a crisis, she emphasizes that people should “look at the silver linings” too.

“Young people are very often a bit ahead of their time”

According to her, technology could improve the educational situation of students from poorer or undereducated backgrounds, however it could also hinder since not all families have access to the same technology. Pálsdóttr points out that that “technology is a tool, with the means to an end” and that its all about how it is used. At the same time, technology shouldn’t be used all the time. She believes “there’s a world out there, that I think, the school needs to connect to, and they do it through the students, by allowing the use of technology, social media and different tools that technology offers.”

The Dean stresses that it is important to keep the focus on the content rather than the technology behind it and that “we need to teach people how to use technology and also to be reflective about the possible pitfalls”. Furthermore, talking about technology in the classroom one should be aware of the huge word it is: “We could be talking about, social media, computers, the world wide web, etcetera.”

Essential skills for the future

When asked about important skills for the future, Kolbrún Pálsdóttr answers with “literacy”. “Being able to, collect data, read, understand, reflect, analyse, interpret, and make use of the information around us” is one of the most significant skills one should acquire in order to be ready for the next decades. Besides that, she gives the soft skills, which are often referred to as the “21st century skills”, like creativity, critical thinking, communication skills and collaboration skills, a lot importance too.

“We can get all kinds of information, but how valid are they? How do we know if the sources are reliable and do we have judgement to differentiate between false information and reliable information?”, Pálsdóttr ads. According to her, that is the point where education comes in, and why it is so important to be able to analyse, be critical and reflect. “It’s not only a question of being able to use all the tools and know how to gather the evidence or data or information. We need to be able to process it and reflect on it and make meaning of it.” 

Teaching skills

Kolbrún Pálsdóttr sees the role of education in making people more capable and reaching their full potential. As this is a really complex project “it’s really important that we think about education in this holistic sense that’s it the responsibility of the whole society to educate its citizens”. This is essential in order to provide the people the conditions to flourish as individuals and get the skills to educate themselves.

While new technologies and modern ways of teaching can help a lot in the educational process, Pálsdóttr is sure that “we also need to look a little bit back, look at how the school has developed and how the educational system has changed and learn from that. The goal of education has not changed since the early days when Aristotle had his idea of education, enabling people become more human and develop their capabilities., according to the dean of the School of Education at the University of Iceland in Reykjavík: “Sometimes it’s also good to go back to basics.”

“We always ned to be inventive”

Although we live in a nearly fully digitalised world, with the knowledge at our fingertips, she does not think, memorising things is or will be obsolete in the future. However, it will not be the essence of what will be taught at school: “We are are training ourselves to analyse, get information and data and process it.” On the other side, Pálsdóttr highlights that different types of approaching are always important. “I would not like my children only to learn on the computers, I would like them to learn to write and actually I would also like them to draw and to act and to sing and to create food.” From her point of view, most parents like their children to experience a range of activities, “both inside the school system and also in the non-formal activities”. In order to find solutions to the huge challenges of our time, the climate and the CoViD-19 crisis, the involvement of young people and creativity are essential in her opinion: “We always need to be inventive, we are trying to make the world a better place, we are always facing new kinds of obstacles. Creating creative solutions is obviously the key.”



Photo:  Shutterstock / Edited by Nevena Saulic


Read this article with many illustrations here!
My interview with Kolbrún Pálsdóttir was recorded and can be watched here:

Education for the future: Which skills will be essential for 2050?