04/15/2013 08:14 am ET Updated Jun 15, 2013

Preparing the Next Generation of Leaders

By Kate Berseth, Executive Vice President, EF Education First

Everyone is talking right now about how to prepare our students for the future. But how do you really do it? How do you enhance our education system to meet the demands of our globalized world? What are the actionable initiatives that we, as a society, can do today that will help this next generation of leaders?

We may not have all the answers, but we can start with a few things.

First, we should try to create more experiential learning opportunities for students. By incorporating action-based learning projects into the classroom, we can challenge students to think differently while still enhancing core curriculum. In the modern workplace, we collaborate, innovate and communicate with each other regularly. Often times, we need to understand other perspectives and innovate on the spot. To prepare students for that, we should try to recreate these "real-world" environments in- and outside the classroom as much as possible. Our students should be engaged in an interactive environment that challenges them in ways that will take them out of their comfort zones, build confidence and develop 21st century skills.

Second, collaboration is important. Collaboration between different cultures is even better. How many times have you heard a high school student say "I'd rather just do this project by myself since it's easier?" Yes, of course it's easier. Speaking as a parent, I know my teenagers would rather text or Facebook each other than sit around a table and figure out the solution to a problem. But that's not how the world works. Learning how to work together -- and exposing ourselves to new cultures, languages and geographies -- is critically important for future leaders to navigate the changing world.

Lastly, we need to let students explore topics that interest them. We should encourage their passions and help them identify their strengths. When people identify their strengths and build on them, they're unstoppable. We practice this in the workplace -- so can't we do more to help schools and educators do the same with our students?

We know the experts agree in principle.

Tony Wagner, a true force of nature in the educational reform world, argues that the goal of education today shouldn't be to make every student college-ready, but "innovation-ready" so they have the capacity to innovate, solve problems, think creatively, and essentially add value to whatever they decide to do.

One of Wagner's Harvard colleagues, Fernando Riemers, would also say that there's another key factor required to prepare students for the 21st century: global competency. In a world that's becoming increasingly smaller and quickly interconnected, Riemers believes that students need to possess the ability to understand and solve complicated global issues in order to compete with the world.

So how do you do it?

We think it's going to require strong partnerships between communities, businesses, visionary school districts and educators -- just like those joining us in Costa Rica during Earth Day weekend this April. By creating experiential learning opportunities for students, encouraging collaboration, and allowing students to explore new topics, then all of us - schools, teachers, students and businesses- will make progress in our collective goal to meet the demands of our globalized society and prepare the next generation of leaders.

About the Global Student Leaders Summit Series

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and EF Education First, in recognition of the 2013 EF Global Student Leaders Summit in Costa Rica. Each year, the EF Global Student Leaders Summit brings together hundreds of high school students and teachers from around the world for experiential learning tours and a leadership and innovation conference to help the next generation of leaders understand and solve critical global issues. For more information on EF Education First, click here.

About EF Education First (EF)

Since 1965, EF Education First has worked toward its mission of breaking down barriers of language, culture and geography through language learning, educational travel, academic degrees and cultural exchange programs. With North American headquarters in Cambridge, Mass., EF is a global education company that spans the globe with more than 450 offices and schools in 54 countries and a staff of more than 35,000 worldwide. For more information on EF Education First, click here.

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