You probably know by now that I mostly work in the water sector (and with my other hat, I work with women).

I recently attended a conference in Brantford, Ontario - Canada, hosted through an unexpected (by me!) yet necessary collaboration between the Ministries of Environment and Education. It was a fantastic demonstration of a top down, innovative capacity-building approach, focused on bringing water education (specifically about the Great Lakes) to the classroom, via training Grade 11 and 12 teachers.

I was there to observe, as my work with Waterlution entails designing youth engagement programming, specifically an educational online game with direct community action, to raise the water I.Q. of youth across Canada. We're calling it: the "Great Waters Challenge" (more soon!).

Ok – back to the main point. What I want to share is this key nugget:

In their research, the Ministry of Education found that the skills that most employers today are looking for are innovation, creativity, and entrepreneurship (I.C.E). 

No, they are not looking for A scores, strong mathematical skills, deep historical knowledge, or even over the top content knowledge (although all are great). What they are looking for most – the selling traits when hiring new employees – are ingenuity and problem-solving. People who are able to create, to innovate by combining ideas of what exists into something completely new, to problem solve, to be imaginative and open to opportunities, are able to deal with any challenges that may arise on the job. How do you develop these skills in students coming out of what we typical consider as a very conventional educational system – an inside the box approach to teaching us about the world? You train the trainers, in this case the teachers, and you take the learning outside of the classroom. Fantastic! This is what an I.C.E training does.

What teachers have been doing is joining forces with sector partners (i.e if it is a construction class, teachers will team up with a construction company) and developing "real" challenge statements for the students to work on. They invite the students to ideate, prototype their solutions and then pitch the winning ideas to the sector partners. Solving real-world challenges is the key here.

Why teach about history when history can be in the making?

And what a beautiful way to empower youth to feel like – given the right tools – they can contribute something really valuable too! I heard a success story: a high school teacher and her students who developed a technology to clean garbage from the ocean, are now patenting it to go out on the market. Wow – things have really changed since I experienced my last years of high school. And am I glad they have! I can only imagine - as I got a quick training in the methodology and experienced it first hand -  just how much fun, enjoyment and value these students are getting out of this new approach. They are most importantly learning to COLLABORATE. I even think about how much more engaged teachers are in their students’ success and how satisfied companies involved must feel to be able to exchange experience and knowledge with young people, whom one day they may hire.

It's about tapping into the collective wisdom – if we want to change the world, we need to build the leaders of tomorrow, today, and equip them with tools for producing knowledge and critical thinking, versus only retaining knowledge. So, high five to the mainstream educational system which is finally tapping into the skills required for the future: innovation, creativity, and entrepreneurship. Forward we go! 

Learn more about I.C.E here: