Futureproof: Empowering Tomorrow's Women

Elmwood’s vision is to be the most innovative girls’ school in Canada and to operate at the forefront of girls’ education globally. Now, more than ever, women are at the centre of the social, political and economic dialogue, acting with courage and integrity in the face of challenge and leading change. This past year in particular has been remarkable in its disruption and dialogue. This is a rare inflec- tion point for our society, as we find ourselves in a game-changing conversation about the perception and treatment of women.

In this context, and against a backdrop of continued and rapid shifts in education more broadly, the strategic opportunities for Elmwood as a leader in girls’ education are evident. By the time our Pre-Kindergarten students graduate from high school, the world of work will look drastically different than it does today. According to estimates, 25-40% of all current work activities in Canada will be replaced by automation by 2030. In the near term, the job tasks that are least at risk of automation are management, stakeholder interaction, specialized expertise, problem solving, creativity and unpredictable work. In other words, uniquely human skills are what make us irreplaceable. In order to futureproof the next generation we need to equip them with a wide range of transferable skills developed through a rich and engaging curriculum. Through our curriculum innova- tion work, we are putting the building blocks together to ensure our students are ready for what comes next.

The generation that is currently moving through the school, ‘Generation Z,’ are a unique cohort. Born after 1996, they are the most connected, educated and sophisticated generation in history. All the research points to the emergence of a stellar generation: industrious, collaborative and eager to build a better planet. They don’t just represent the future, they are creating it.

One data point that is particularly inter- esting about Gen Z is that 71% of high school students want to start a business someday. Surrounded by DIY education and crowd- sourcing, these teenagers dream of self-em- ployment. Given the rapid pace of change we’re facing, being able to take risks, manage uncertainty and adjust rapidly will be hugely valuable skills in the future economy. In other words, entrepreneurial skills will grow in importance, not just for startups, but for all Canadian workers.

One of the exciting and engaging learning projects that we are in the process of devel- oping, as a part of our curriculum innovation, is a program that focuses on teaching our students about business and entrepreneur- ship. This new program will give girls an opportunity to develop a wide range of skills they will put to use in their future careers—problem solving, creativity, communications, teamwork, financial literacy, critical thinking, digital literacy and presentation skills. These skills will enable our girls to engage with a complex world and navigate the challenges that they will inherit.

They also have a chance to develop innovative ideas and test their projects in
a safe, realistic environment supported by mentors. They practice fast-to-fail, de- sign-thinking experiments that will stretch preconceived notions and help them take ideas to the next level. They will learn how to receive feedback and see it as a tool for improvement rather than rejection. What is more, they will find role models and men- tors and learn how to use their voices to empower themselves and others. As entre- preneurs, women can take greater control of their lives, determining where, when and how much they work, reaching their highest earning potential, and gaining skills that cross over to any career path.

But even if our graduates choose another field of study, they will still possess skills that will make them highly sought after in a globally competitive workforce. The World Economic Forum listed complex problem solving, critical thinking and creativity as the top three skills needed in the workforce in 2020. Closer to home, a 2016 survey of 90 large Canadian private-sector companies, conducted by the Business Council of Canada, identified teamwork, communication and problem-solving capabilities as some of the most important skills for entry-level positions. Developing these skills is already a strength of Elmwood and we expect that this will only further develop with our new program. Looking at our alumnae, they have already paved the way for our next generation of graduates and offer a dynamic network of successful mentors. This issue of the Elm- wood Emblem features the stories of two of our many alumnae entrepreneurs who have used their creativity, problem-solving abili- ties and critical thinking skills to make their mark on the world. They are an inspiration to all of our students, and excellent examples of women who have “futureproofed” their careers.

We are excited to be enhancing this aspect of our curriculum to ensure that all Elm- wood students graduate with the skills they need to be digitally-literate, financially savvy, innovative and adaptable, help them navigate complex careers of the future and thrive in every aspect of their lives. The decisions we make today will have positive impact on our graduates and will ensure they have all they need to flourish in the future.

By Cheryl Boughton, Head of School