“The illiterate of the 21st Century are not those who cannot read and write but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.”
― Alvin Toffler, Powershift: Knowledge, Wealth, and Power at the Edge of the 21st Century
That book was written 25 years ago, as Alvin Toffler looked at the Industrial Economy moving to an Information Age/Knowledge Economy. What happens when economic value is created out of knowledge, out of intangible assets? Today, there are no universally accepted standards to measure the value of intangible assets in the same way that we value hard assets, like gold, machinery and real property.
If value is created out of knowledge, does power follow that value creation? That’s what happens with tangible assets. He who has the most property, the most gold or oil, is more likely to have more power to win in a dispute. What is the relationship between knowledge and value? Value to whom? In what context does knowledge have value?
Now, in the 21st Century, what does literacy mean? Who will be the literate?
My students ask: “I don’t want to be trapped in the structures of the past that limit my opportunities. How can I become one of the literates? How will I survive?
My response: “Who are the most passionate learners? Entrepreneurs. What can we learn from their mindset?” How do entrepreneurs feel about what they know and what they don’t know? How do they deal with uncertainty and change?
Our culture places so much emphasis and value on learning, especially established standard content. That is important and enables us to feel we are making progress in life, materially, and psychically. We feel secure, and have a sense of self-worth.
The entrepreneur mindset/lifestyle choice is a constant cycling of aspirations and needs, driven at an ever-increasing pace by a passion for exploring unknowns. This behavior is paradoxical because it seems to be opposed to what most people believe is a “normal human life”, which emphasizes stability, security, relative comfort.
Entrepreneurs thrive on chaos and uncertainty. Who would want to live like that? Why? Popular media suggests they are motivated by greed for fame and fortune. The reality is their drive to survive, an unquenchable, relentless pursuit of knowledge. They even welcome and embrace critical feedback because they know they learn little from compliments. They respect their competitors and are, like Andy Grove, legendary CEO and one of the co-founders of Intel, paranoid – all the time. He even wrote a book titled: “Only the Paranoid Survive”. The success of Intel validates the concept.
What is “unlearning and relearning”?
Unlearning is an ever-changing, fluid process of exploration by using different sets of questions about everything we know and value to discover unknowns.
Relearning can be more accurately described as refocused learning. If the focus, assumptions, objectives, and methods remain the same, won’t we learn the same lessons? How can we “relearn” something we believe we already know? When the challenges have changed, how useful is that?
Sounds good - BUT - we resist “unlearning and relearning”, just as we resist many kinds of change. The initial challenge is that our egos hate being torn down, even to be rebuilt.
How do people go through this process?
When and how often is this necessary?
If learning is seen as a process of “connecting the dots”, understanding the relationships between data points (of reality), then unlearning must begin with asking about the data points themselves.
What data points are we observing and paying attention to?
How important and relevant are those data points?
What other data points should we consider?
What data points are there that we might not be aware of?
Next, we can examine the connections, each one, consciously and deliberately. The questions are the same.
What connections are we observing and paying attention to?
How important and relevant are those connections?
What other connections should we consider?
What connections are there that we might not be aware of?
Then, what about our ability to interpret those connections?
What insights do we gain from the connections we believe to be true?
How important and relevant are those insights?
What other ways might we interpret those connections?
Finally, we can “relearn” by observing data points and connections that might have been beyond the scope or even the imagination of our previous mindset. With new data points and new connections, can new interpretations and insights be far behind?
Isn’t this a kind of “mental conditioning”, like physical conditioning? Who wouldn’t want to be more fit to meet new challenges?
Write about the following topic:
The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn. Agree or Disagree?
You should spend about 20 minutes on this task.
Write at least 250 words on this IELTS / PTE Essay.
Essay – The Illiterate Of The 21st Century
Who is an illiterate? Dictionary meaning of an illiterate would be someone’s inability to read, write and understand. In a broader sense, lack of familiarity concerning a particular subject would make one an illiterate. So, we can also assume, by extension, that a literate individual would have sufficient knowledge of the subject in question – making him capable of understanding, and if possible, change his opinion of the matter, should a new set of information emerge. In other words, a literate should have the capacity to learn, and if circumstances dictate, unlearn and re-learn. I stand by the statement.
Information about a subject matter should empower us to form opinions. But, should conflicting or contradictory information emerge, our existing learning should not stand in our way. Education should be an enabler – and not a restricting factor. Characteristics like adaptability, upgradability, and change should be associated with literates. Education must make us more open to change, and not stand in the way.
It is a given that the kind of institutional set-up will be instrumental in determining if literacy is leading to constrictions, or if it was leading us to a world of ideas. If it the former, then there is no doubt that even educated individuals may not be warm to the idea of change.
But, to me, the purpose of education must be to open one’s mind to the possibilities of change – to the idea that to better ourselves, we must continuously learn from both past-experience and insights of the new generation; even if it means letting go of some of our old learnings. For only who cannot learn and unlearn to relearn, will be called the literate of today.