People who are future literate are more skilled at imagining the future and more able to prepare, recover and invent as changes occur. Our schools and universities should nurture people who can imagine beyond pre-existing paradigms to inspire hope and foster collaboration.
It is too simple to say optimistic people see the future while pessimists do not. Hong Kong has entered its second 25 years back under Chinese control. What we envisage for the city has less to do with optimism or pessimism but how literate we are about the future.
Innovation and technology are important to Hong Kong’s future. During the visit by President Xi Jinping for the 25th anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover, the Science Park – the city’s largest facility for research and development beyond university campuses – was the only place he visited apart from attending the ceremonies. The visit showed the nation’s vision of developing Hong Kong as an international hub for science and technology innovation.
The future is unknown. As the future is uncertain, it is filled with change and instability, challenges and chances, hopes and anxieties. After all, the future can only be imagined. People’s ability to imagine the future varies, yet it can be trained, nurtured and enhanced.
Education plays an important role in creating the future. More educated people have a greater ability to imagine the future in more informed, realistic, innovative, entrepreneurial and positive ways.
Unesco, the UN’s heritage body, has said that “futures literacy” is an essential competency for the 21st century. It is a universally accessible skill that builds on the innate human capacity to imagine the future. It empowers people to escape from their “poverty of the imagination”.
Futures literacy is a capability that allows people to better understand the role of the future in what they see and do now and next. People who are future literate are more skilled at using the future and more able to prepare, recover and invent as changes occur.
What is known about the otherwise unknown future is change. There will be changes at an accelerating speed. In an age of increasing complexity, there will be ever more novel problems that are hard to define and understand quickly.
Hong Kong and its young people will be living with the future’s “new normals” and “next normals” against the global context of climate change, novel infectious diseases, a changing world political order, international economic crises, ideological tensions, inter- and intranational inequalities and ageing populations. We are increasingly living in a world underscored by volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity.
In their book AI 2041, Lee Kai-fu and Chen Qiufan predict that artificial intelligence will be the defining development of the 21st century and aspects of our everyday life will become unrecognisable within just two decades. Medicine and education will be revolutionised through human-machine symbiosis.
Biotechnology and educational technology will be essential in the strategic development of Hong Kong’s innovation. The creative disruption of economic structures, labour forces and the meaning of work, leisure and a good life will all have an effect on young people.
-19 pandemic is accelerating these megatrends and the global rise of academic entrepreneurialism. Innovation and entrepreneurial changes that emerged during the pandemic will become part of the future. When we take stock of the gains and the bright spots from the pandemic, there will be greater receptiveness towards educational technology and more appreciation of science and technology.
Meanwhile, there is growing awareness about the role the humanities play in the ongoing technology-driven development and digital transformation. In the field of education, teaching will see greater collaboration among educators and more communication between schools and families.
Self-directed learning will become ever more central to education as learning and teaching are being reimagined by technology-enabled innovation. Teachers will play a role more like a designer of students’ personalised learning, pulling together educational resources, personalised goals and plans and assessment tools.
The future of education is receiving enhanced attention around the world. This can be seen in the recent Unesco report “Reimagining Our Futures Together: A new social contract for education”.
Nurturing young people who are future literate is not about indoctrinating them with optimism. It is an innovative, eye-opening, dynamic and uplifting process which leads them to be aware of the sources of their hopes and fears while more fully appreciating the diversity of choices, risks, resources, networks and possibilities around them.
Education is a process which creates opportunities for young students to join teachers and mentors to navigate, innovate, fail, reframe and fine-tune the passion projects they love to do and which help them thrive.
On June 30, the University of Hong Kong signed a strategic cooperation agreement with Shenzhen’s Qianhai Authority for collaborative areas including an “entrepreneurship academy” for Hong Kong youth. On the same day, Baptist University furthered its collaboration with 18 leading mainland universities through a new collaboration agreement.
The agreements highlight the fact that education should look towards the future. Polytechnic University has established the largest interdisciplinary academy in the region for connecting world-class research, global academic networks and the impact of technologies on stakeholders.
The future will be a world coexisting between humans and artificial intelligence. The meanings and values of data, information, knowledge and wisdom will be seriously reconsidered.
Passion and compassion will become more essential qualities among young people and leaders who make policies for youth. We should slow down, reflect and embrace the ideas of inclusiveness, diversity and democracy when technology-driven entrepreneurialism has dominated many parts of visions of Hong Kong’s future.
Futures literacy enhances awareness and innovation. Amid the global rise of academic entrepreneurialism, it boosts competitiveness and reinforces Hong Kong’s foundations. Future literate people can imagine beyond pre-existing paradigms to inspire hope and foster collaboration with others. They are the people our education and universities should aspire to nurture.