So tonight was our ‘Beginning of the year BBQ’ basically a meet up of all the teachers to welcome each other back from the summer break. It’s a good time to catch up on what everyone did this summer and meet some of the new people.
I happened to sit down next to our new High School science teacher who introduced me to her fiancé. She is a ‘local hire’ meaning that her fiancé is here on business and she got a job with the school after moving to Shanghai with him. Basically it’s all about pay and that as an overseas hire we get more benefits than those who are ‘local hires’. She is a certified teacher who just happened to follow her fiancé to Shanghai and found a position at our school.
Her fiancé is where the conversation is. He works for a large multinational computer operation based in the U.S. (I’m keeping this on the low as you can tell) he is based here in Shanghai and does marketing work for the company. Once I found out who he worked for and what he did I was all questions and he was keen to respond. As much as I would have loved to post the whole conversation here, I’ll just give you the best parts.
We were talking about what skills kids need today and for that matter what skills he looks for when hiring people for his company.
“I’m looking for people who know how to learn! I don’t care about your degree or any other piece of paper you might have. I want to know your experiences, have you been faces with problems, how did you solve those problems and what was the outcome.”
Let’s stop right there. I’ve tried to remember this word for word the best I can and it’s been about 3 hours since our conversation. Think about what he’s saying. Think about the skills he’s asking for and looking for in a worker.
“It’s not about knowledge, with the Internet today you can teach yourself anything. The question is do you know how to learn it and can you find the quickest most efficient way to find the information and solve the problem at hand. I’m looking for thinkers!”
So at this point I’m jumping up in down ready to put the man on stage and let him talk to the entire staff at my school. Then he hits me with this.
“What are schools doing or can you do to help kids gain these types of skills?” (This must be the fiancé being a teacher part!)
After I picked my jaw off the ground I smiles and say, “Good questions!”
The conversation went on from there and we talked about his office.
“Look, it’s just an address. Sure I have an office, but I go there only twice a week at best and that’s to have my English/Mandarin secretary tell me what was in my mail. People don’t get it today. I work from home. I’m talking to the Philippines, Malaysia, Japan, and the US. All I need is an Internet connection. I don’t need an office.”
Here is the scary part this is the 3rd conversation I’ve had this week were I’ve met people or their spouses that “Telecommute” to work. One for a large multinational bank, one who owns his own finance firm in Miami and this fellow who works for the multinational computer company. The most fascinating of the bunch is the guy who owns his own finance firm. Basically his wife told me “He can live anywhere…he does all his work on the computer, so we decided we wanted to live abroad and decided on Shanghai. He goes to Miami for two weeks every year, other than that he telecommutes to work. Of course I never get the computer, but we’re happy and he spends more time with me and we explore the world from here.”
Is it a flat world? Yes. Are people really living in it? Yes. Is China everything the news makes it out to be? Yes.
Are we teaching the skills students need to be successful in this new environment?
Can we teach these skills?
What does our focus need to be?
How do we get there?
What needs to change?
All questions that are running through my head as I try to go to sleep tonight. I just hope we have answers to these questions. Otherwise is education really preparing our students for the world that awaits them?