The future of Education in Scouting 2

The Future

Depending on the background, interest and focus of the person making the presentation, the future will either be characterised by the progress in biotechnology and genetic manipulations, AI, space colonies, ecological disaster, quantum computing, a global integrated culture, virtual reality, or simply doom and brimstone! 

In the same way we tried to present what we do integrated in whatever pan-organisational educational trend was prominent at a certain time, we tend to try and show how we prepare our young people for each of these possible scenarios. Which is great, but impossible! They are too detailed, too specific and, mainly, too numerous and broad for us to ever be able to contemplate a coordinated, international education work covering all these areas.

True, there might be a Troop in Canada who dabs in the issue of ethical genetics, but is this true, relevant, or even possible in Ghana? The future of social networks as vectors of social change might be pursued as an educational path, but what if they will become obsolete quicker than we think? Remember the .com revolution we thought will drive societies in the 21st Century? The first smartphone relegated it to the footnotes of any analysis in a few years – the web is there but it’s just a canvas on top of which other, more exciting, things happen. No serious company invests today time and resources in their “traditional” web presence, other than as a way to transfer really basic information. 

I belong to a generation that, as young people, was more than convinced that in 30 years we will have all but run out of numerous resources!  All reasonable influencers of our times predicted that if growth continued, the world would run out of gold, mercury, silver, tin, zinc, copper and lead well before 2000. School textbooks soon echoed these claims.

This caused the economist Julian Simon to challenge the ecologist Paul Ehrlich to a bet that a basket of five metals (chosen by Ehrlich) would cost less in 1990 than in 1980. The Stone Age did not end for lack of stone, Simon said, arguing that we would find substitutes if metals grew scarce. Simon won the bet easily, although Ehrlich wrote the cheque with reluctance, sniping that ‘the one thing we’ll never run out of is imbeciles’. To this day none of those metals has significantly risen in price or fallen in volume of reserves, let alone run out.

I myself was more than convinced that this must be true – mathematically, scientifically it made sense – we continued to consume more and more from a finite pot. I was more than ready to go out and shout my desperation in the face of what I considered criminal inaction! Yet, the future proved me and all the others wrong. Today,  I take ALL claims (being them from Extinction Rebellion or from Greta Thunberg) with a critical look – but it took me 30 years!

However, this is not to say that, just because we do not know with certainty what the future will look like, that we should continue to prepare young people for the past. But we should invest in educating in areas which are almost scenario-independent, competencies which would be relevant and useful both if we’re to live on a colony on Mars or in a post-apocalyptic Stone Age society!

I think our focus on the future education in Scouting should take into account the considerations above (support healthy learning foundations, keep relevance in relation to the Method, make our proposal easy to communicate and really innovate local activities), as well as the intrinsic uncertainties about the future. 

Here is an attempt to define the three points of focus for the future education in Scouting

Three focal points to rule them all

1. Wellbeing

I see this as a good way to represent our Fundamental Principles, as I think that they do guide our attitudes and behaviours, and generally define our values in life. Happiness stems from one’s values being in sync with one’s actions and with one’s world view. 

Under this general heading I would put the three Scout “duties”, each with three points.

I have a strong disagreement with the term “duties” (“responsibilities” is more appropriate) but I’ll use it here for the sake of keeping a reference to the original concepts.

Duty to self 

  • Mental health and inner peace
  • Philosophy (epistemology, metaphysics and axiology)
  • Self-expression/arts

Duty to Others

  • Diversity and inclusion of all, international friendship
  • Community involvement, political action, preparedness in the context of disasters, humanitarian action
  • Dialogue, rhetoric and logic

Duty to God(s) / nature 

  • Sustainability, responsible consuming, circular economy
  • Support adaptations to climate change
  • Action in favour of nature, protect biodiversity, eco-citizen science

2. Resilience 

As we see everyday, the only constant in the world is change. The future can, and most probably, look very different from anyone’s imagination.  The capacity to learn, unlearn and relearn, is the only way to keep relevant. We probably see today more people being unsuccessful because they have the wrong competencies rather than have no competencies at all. 

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.”

Charles Darwin

It is scientifically proven that learning a totally new skill (or getting a totally new information in any field) is significantly easier than changing or adapting either an acquired competence or some obsolete knowledge. Yet, the happy and successful people of tomorrow are exactly those who can master this process. 

Interestingly, this is the first time in history when quickly adapting one’s knowledge is so important. For thousands of years and until as recently as the late 20th Century, a solid practical skill acquired at a young age was relevant for most of one’s life, possible for generations. We used the same technologies for thousands of years for the major part of humankind’s history. There was no need for scribes in Ancient Egypt to learn a new way of drawing hieroglyphs for almost the entire timespan of the Empire and riding horses in battle was a very useful skill for centuries in the Medieval times. But today, the ability to drive a car might actually stop being an asset in just a few generations, typing was no longer a relevant competence in less than 50 years and coding in BASIC was interesting for about 10!

“Harvard professor Roland Barth has observed that in the 1950’s when young people left high school they typically knew about 75% of what they would need to know to be successful in life. Today, he predicts that young people know about 2% of what they will need to know.“

Barth, R.S. “The leader as a learner”. Education Week, 16(23). 56.

But the discussion should go beyond practical, or employability-related competences. Our entire understanding of the world changes with increased speed and resilience is a way to combat the junk learning.

In only 50 years I saw myself having to adapt multiple times my understanding of things like the origin of the Universe, socialism or the arts. But, more importantly, I had to completely review my attitudes on concepts as diverse as sexual orientations, religion or gender equality. I am convinced this took more effort on my side than it would require for someone born in the 2000s, for example. No one should underestimate the resources it takes to unlearn some deep seated beliefs – it’s almost like a religious conversion!

I’d like to believe that I was able to continuously review my attitudes based on new knowledge and understanding, therefore getting more “in sync” with modern society. But many of my generation did not. And they’re feeling lost, frustrated by the social changes and generally forming the mass of hard-conservatives opposed to basically anything new.

In Scouting we should define, encourage and promote programmes which allow paradigm-shifts and put people in radically changed situations requiring adaptation of one’s core beliefs. We should not shy away from asking the hard questions and get people outside the comfort zone, without getting into the panic one. 

We have to free young people’s creative thinking, involve them in citizen science and get innovation and entrepreneurship more into the traditional activities. 

3. Agency

I was very close to putting as the third most important focus point for the future of education in Scouting “Leadership”. But I never really liked the term. Though I can understand its rationale of being an important element in modern education, I feel the term itself still spells exclusivity and elitism. Not helped by the fact that the opposite of “leader” is generally considered to be “follower”. Neither describe what we hope to achieve in Scouting.

Picking from philosophy and social sciences I would rather use the term “agency”. Possibly not perfect either. The term has appeared rather recently in relation to education and it is generally taken to mean “the capacity to make a difference”. 

“The idea that education is the process through which learners become capable of independent thought which, in turn, forms the basis for autonomous action, has had a profound impact on modern educational theory and practice.

One way of thinking of learner agency is when learners have “the power to act”. Agency is when learning involves the activity and the initiative of the learner, more than the inputs that are transmitted to the learner from the teacher, from the curriculum, the resources and so forth.”


We have a sense of ‘agency’ when we feel in control of things that happen around us; when we feel that we can influence events.

So what is “Learner Agency”? Learners…

  • Know how they learn best.
  • Are proactive in their learning.
  • Set goals and action steps for career, and life.
  • Develop learning strategies and skills to support meeting the action steps.
  • Select appropriate tools and resources for each task and is “Future Ready.”
  • Develop curiosity to learn about the world with the world.
  • Self-direct and monitor progress in learning.
  • Reflect on evidence of learning.
  • Identify their passion and purpose for learning.
  • Foster an authentic and meaningful life.
  • Source: Defining Learner Agency

    I see agency as a suitable header under which Scouting initiatives related to youth participation in their own development, activities defined and carried out independently and encouraging an active planning for life would fall. 

    We need to give a lot more autonomy to young people in their Scouting lives and allow for more flexibility on how Scouting exists (are weekly meetings with a fixed structure the best way to foster learning? Are we a club or a movement?). Baden-Powell famously said that Scouting is nothing more than framing and enriching what young people do anyway – the Game of Scouting! We should then ask ourselves what drives people in activities like marching bands, parades or flag ceremonies, as much as the value of knowing how to find North with a needle or flag signalling. Would these be activities our young people would do all by themselves, if there were no adults around? Where is the barrier between driving and imposing educational opportunities? 

    We should not forget that we deal with young people, and, luckily, they did not change in the last millennium, if not longer.

    “The world is passing through troublesome times. The young people of today think of nothing but themselves. They have no reverence for parents or old age. They are impatient of all restraint. They talk as if they knew everything, and what passes for wisdom with us is foolishness with them. As for the girls, they are forward, immodest and unladylike in speech, behavior and dress.”

    From a sermon preached by Peter the Hermit in A.D. 1274

    I continue to be pleased when Scouts admit that their first beer or kiss or cigarette happened in a camp as much as I see the benefit of suffering through a badly packed backpack for a day’s hike. I see efforts to curb what I consider a natural process of discovery and experimentation as imposing discipline and basically sweeping dust under the rug. All those things will happen and they represent learning as much as calculus does. 

    Yes, maybe it is high time that Scouting does, indeed, refocus its education. Do we have the courage to really look into the heart of things and propose revolutionary, bold ways forward? Because if we don’t, we betray the legacy of the man who did exactly that more than 100 years ago!

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