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Education to Better Their World: Unleashing the Power of 21st-Century Kids

reviewed by Youn Jung Huh - July 05, 2017

coverTitle: Education to Better Their World: Unleashing the Power of 21st-Century Kids
Author(s): Marc Prensky
Publisher: Teachers College Press, New York
ISBN: 080775790X, Pages: 144, Year: 2016
Search for book at Amazon.com

With the growing awareness of children as citizens in the present, much effort has been made to find ways to involve children and young people in policy and social practice (e.g., the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child). However, many current education systems treat children as people who are becoming citizens, but not yet ready to participate in the greater society. Educations goal is often to prepare children to be successful citizens in the future, citizens who will someday typically long after their education go out and improve the world (p. 3). Mark Prenskys Education to Better Their World: Unleashing the Power of 21st-Century Kids questions current education systems that overlook the power of children, who are able to impact not only their own lives but also the world in which they live, and suggests an education whose ends are to empower kids to improve their own world, starting when they are students (p. 1). Throughout the book, the author provides various examples of world improvement projects performed by K-12 children and points toward an innovative vision of where our education can and should be.

The book is divided into thirteen chapters and includes a conclusion, an appendix, and notes. In the first chapter, the author provides a broad overview of how current education systems have failed to respond to the needs of todays children, who may have different capabilities than previous generations. The author urges readers to shift their individual visions toward the Empowerment to Better Their World ideals and to develop new educational models that might allow children to participate in real projects and effectively impact their world immediately (p. 5).

The second chapter starts by describing a hypothetical situation in which real-world projects might be introduced and applied to a K-12 education, followed by a discussion of the challenges and potential outcomes that might begin to surface a year following implementation. The next two chapters explain how this seemingly imaginary situation can very easily become a reality. Chapter Three discusses children today, who are capable of using technology to gain access to new information and to communicate with people around the world, while Chapter Four provides ten examples of real projects done by children. These projects are different from so-called authentic projects, which are simply simulations of reality, with the primary goal of learning rather than accomplishing something. The real, world-improvement projects allow children to accomplish something that impacts their own here and now, and learning comes as a natural byproduct of the process.

Chapter Five explains two historical educational traditions: the first is the accomplishment traditions of education, which is practical education, where skills and knowledge are shared through apprenticeship (training) at work; and the second is the academic education where knowledge is shared through structured practices developed over time by certain groups of people. The two educations have long developed separately in different spaces, either in workplaces or in schools, and this sort of segregated education has paved the way for students to have to integrate the skills and knowledge gained from both spaces on their own and to apply them effectively independently. The author argues that we need to find ways to combine the accomplishment and academic traditions to support students, especially through real-world projects.

In Chapters Six through Eight, the author emphasizes the importance of developing new forms of education and suggests the idea of having new educational goals, means, and support for education. In education, we are often concerned with how individuals will fit into a larger society successfully through education, not about how the world can be changed by these individuals. The author points out that education needs to move beyond the level of individual achievement (success) and toward higher ends, making their world a better place (p. 27). Current technology empowers individual students to accomplish new educational goals as it allows them to extend their capabilities and to connect with others both locally and globally. What educators need to do is identify students individual areas of interest (i.e., passions) and guide them to participate in real world projects that correlate to their areas of interest. Technology-based approaches would be useful for helping students identify their interests and finding proper real-world projects from online databases.

Chapter Nine introduces the new curriculum model, a better world curriculum. It explains how the curriculum supports students to do real, world-improving projects and eventually to have a lifelong set of skills and dispositions that makes them good, effective, and world-improving people (p. 53). The curriculum consists of four skill-based subjects: (a) Effective Thinking, (b) Effective Action, (c) Effective Relationships, and (d) Effective Accomplishment. These skills will be acquired and applied through real, impactful projects. Some might argue that this new curriculum might weaken students understanding of current curricula content such as Math, English, Science, and Social Studies (MESS), but the author points out that traditional content-based lessons represent only one of the many ways to acquire knowledge, and some of the content in the curriculum may no longer be necessary to learn. This new model still needs additional development in order to best meet the needs and applications of students in varying grades and developmental stages, but it at least forms a foundation or vision for the direction of educational reform in the coming years.

Chapters Ten and Eleven discuss the role of technology and adults in a new Education to Better Their World. Technology, whether it is general or dedicated educational technology, can be a great resource for children to use as they learn about and develop their projects. The author urges the development of new educational technology that aims at supporting new types of education. When it comes to adults roles in this new education, the author emphasizes that adults should serve as guides, who coach and empower children so that they can accomplish these projects on their own. According to Prensky:

The teachers job in empowering is to give students agency, that is, to empower students to- on their own initiative- apply their passions to doing something that the students already want to do (and are already capable of at some level), and to direct their students efforts to improve their local and/or global world (p. 92).


In Chapters Twelve and Thirteen, the author anticipates how this new educational system would become a reality, as well as discusses various roles in the new educational paradigm. The new educational paradigm cannot be realized from the top-down, but rather it must proceed through a bottom-up approach. Unlike the past, in which the dominant vision was proclaimed directed or adopted formally from above, todays shared visions emerge from the bottom-up practices of all the groups doing things differently, in combination with new ideas from above (p. 111).  

Overall, this book significantly contributes to building an innovative curriculum to prepare our children to make their world better both now and in the future, as it offers a practical list of questions, resources, and ideas for a new education. Prensky describes todays children as rockets, which have a great power but who also have different speeds and unpredictable destinations. The current academic curriculum reveals its limitations to support these children, and requires us to develop and apply a new curriculum to educate these children. Educators should be rocket scientists, who fill our rocket students up with new fuel and build into the rockets the ability to self-monitor, to self-assess, and to self-correct as much as possible (p. 120). In other words, we need to be aware of the need to develop a new curriculum and find ways to guide our students to reach their full potential. I would recommend this book to those who seek new approaches to empower todays children in education.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: July 05, 2017
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 22081, Date Accessed: 1/28/2022 11:56:37 PM

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About the Author
  • Youn Jung Huh
    Salem State University
    E-mail Author
    YOUN JUNG HUH, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of Childhood Education and Care at Salem State University. She received her doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction from Arizona State University. Her current research interests include young children and digital technology, popular culture, post structuralism, qualitative research methods, and family studies. Her work has appeared in Early Child Development and Care, and the Journal of Comparative Research in Anthropology and Sociology. She has an article forthcoming in Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood.
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