The 21st century is an era of unprecedented change — of new forms of online communication, of artificial intelligence replacing human labor, and new technologies requiring new skillsets. Despite all this drastic change, education remains more or less the same. We’re in the 21st century and stuck learning 19th century, industrial age skills.
The OWN Academy x Explorium Summer Program delivers a real world experience that fosters 21st century skills — an invaluable opportunity that offers what schools cannot. During these 10 days, students from ages 12–18 become a business consultant for 3 companies — Toys R Us, Circle K, and Meiyume. At the end of the two weeks, the teams pitched their best solutions back to the businesses, and the businesses considered the implementation of the students’ solutions.
Our 10-day journey began with interviewing strangers to understand the target demographic of the students’ client. I was part of the Toys R Us group, so we went out to Toys R Us to interview and empathize with the pain points of “our” customers. While some of my peers were quite timid at first, a few garnered the confidence to approach strangers for an interview. There were countless rejections and irritated looks that came their way; but the students showed stellar resilience and adapted quickly, and they were able to stop over 10 people for an interview in an hour. Not only did we adopt emotional intelligence, we learned how to adapt quickly in challenging situations, communication skills, and resilience.
After understanding and empathizing with the target demographic, we moved on to the ideation stage. The students — no, consultants — looked at the responses they received from the interviews and identified patterns. What were the common pain points? How might we turn these pain points into an opportunity to tailor a better shopping experience for the customers? We rarely use our critical thinking skills to come up with solutions that don’t yet have an answer at school — so this was a challenging task for all of us.
Our Toys R Us group found that parents did not enjoy the tedious waiting time as their child took a long time playing with the toys. We, as business consultants, acknowledged these problems, brainstormed solutions, and created prototypes to help visualize their idea.
There were numerous challenges we faced along the way. Because unlike school, we were not given clear cut directions that told us exactly what to do, we were often left in uncertainty to think for ourselves what the next best step would be. There was the occasional team tension because of the “unequal work distribution”. Louder, more dominant people felt that they were doing more work than necessary, and quieter, more reserved students felt that their voice was not being heard and valued. These are challenges that adults also face in the real world — and throughout these two weeks, we acquired professionalism and problem solving skills through tackling real world problems.
However, despite these challenges, on the final presentation, we successfully pitched our solution in front of the three judges — one of which included the head of marketing from Toys R Us himself. To have an adult take our ideas into consideration, to have a voice in the real world, was a truly empowering and unique experience.
The most valuable skills in life and in employment are not our ability to memorize and cram information like we do at school; but rather, they are 21st century skills like creativity, communication skills, emotional intelligence, and problem solving skills. The OWN Academy x Explorium Summer Program was the first program I ever attended that delivered these exact skills in the real world, with real business problems and real companies — and I am proud and confident to have acquired skills that I can use for a lifetime.
By Yui Kurosawa, Age 17