Written by EFSC President Jennifer Vigne for SRQMagazine’s SRQ Daily Saturday Perspectives

“We’ve created an economy based on people spending money they do not have to buy things they may not need, threatening the planet in the process. We have to transition from a consumer-driven economy to an innovation-driven economy,” says Tony Wagner, expert in Residence at Harvard University’s Innovation Lab and author of Creating Innovators and The Global Achievement Gap.

As a country, state and local community that is part of a global technology-driven economy, we need to excel in innovation or we will get left behind. This stark reality stresses the need for education to accelerate its rate of change since the classrooms of today are often not aligned with the skills required by tomorrow’s workforce. This was a key topic of discussion during this week’s 2017 Florida Chamber Foundation Learners to Earners Annual Summit. Of all the speakers, I was particularly impressed with Mary O’Hara-Devereaux, a futurist who provoked us to reimagine the future – the future that our children and grandchildren will consider as their today.

Sarasota County students enjoy the advantages of a philanthropic community that appreciates the importance of innovation. Tech active classrooms of tomorrow are now an everyday part of our middle school education, helping foster group learning and critical thinking. Increasing STEM content in our elementary school curriculum continues while engineering and robotics classes that promote project-based learning are being implemented into more area high schools each year. The trend will continue but the pace of innovation within American schools, from early education through post-secondary institutions, is not keeping up with global advances.

If you think the internet changed our world the past decade, imagine the implications artificial intelligence will have on our lives.  We are in the throes of a transformative era where the average life expectancy of a female is predicted to reach 100 years by 2057; 47 percent of jobs will disappear within 25 years; urbanization will create 1 billion new middle-class consumers, 90 percent of which will be in emerging markets, mostly in Asia; and by 2040, technological innovations will outpace humans’ adaptability. It is enough to make anyone’s head spin. Wagner notes that, as a whole, America’s education system focuses on individual achievement, specialization, risk aversion, passive learning and extrinsic incentives.  In conflict, innovation is driven by collaboration across disciplines where failure is often the only path to success.

Thomas Friedman makes a compelling case for the rapid rate of acceleration in his most recent book, Thank You for Being Late, by identifying the significant technological advancements of 2007, which was the year the iPhone was introduced, Facebook launched, Twitter started to scale globally, Google launched the Android and Amazon released the Kindle. Just 10 years later in 2017, Tesla surpassed Ford Motor Company and GM in market capitalization—a company founded less than 15 years ago.

In this era of rapid change and technological advancement, it is incumbent upon us to collectively create the “make or break strategies” asserted by O’Hara-Devereaux during the summit so that we create the comparative human advantage. We need more imagination, more creativity, more collaboration and, perhaps most importantly, a profound elevation in how we value education. The time is now to create innovators and the Education Foundation of Sarasota County is committed to being a driving force in expanding advances being made for our students, teachers and schools.