How to Solve World Problems?

21st Century Students

How can students in college now prepare themselves for the fast technological changes they can expect at work and in their personal lives? What can they expect? What sort of problems can they expect to face and conquer?

21st Century Students Worry about Population and Weath Distribution

World Population by Region
World Population by Region | Source

College Students and Social Problems

Each generation has problems to solve. Each group of college students is give the task of facing those problems and helping to contribute to overcoming them and making the world a better place. While not every college student will make a contribution to the world which will be noticed by the larger public, all of us have a chance to use the time, talents and resources we have to help locally.

Google Glasses: How Will They Change Relationships?

What Problems Do College Students See?

For thet last three years, I have polled college students to find out what world problems concern them. I ask them to make a list of the problems that worry them and also to explain which problems most concern them.

What Problems Does This Generation Face?

People Problems
Health
Environment
Social Issues
Governments
poverty
HIV/AIDS
clean water
Internet Censorship
Social Security System in U.S.
hunger
Heart Disease
water for crops
Facebook privacy
Entitlement Programs underfunded
homelessness
Cancer
global climate change
data mining
Immigration
war
Autism increase
destruction of rainforest
security of cloud
Welfare
Drug use
Malaria
sanitation/sewers
cyber terrorism
North Korean threats
education not adequate
Polio
pollution
single parents
Syria unrest/ Arab spring
racism
Flu/Bird Flu
earthquakes
divorce
terrorism
technology overdependence
special needs
natural disasters
break up of families
Civil Wars
inequality of resource distribution
Alzheimers
loss of species
mass transit needs
Corrupt Governments
slavery
obesity
fracking causing pollution
teen pregnancy
European Union Economies
religious oppression
processed foods
too reliant on a few crops
abortion
Strength of China in World
unemployment
too much sugar in diet
food scarcity
capital punishment
Overpopulation
desire to change
anorexia, body image problems
peak oil?
violence
nuclear and chemical war
Taken from Survey of college students in my classes from 2010-2015

Problems College Students See in Future

Will China be the major world power?
Will China be the major world power? | Source

Does this Generation Face a Bleak Future?

Listening to some news reports, you might think so. Yet, each generation has challenges. My grandparent’s generation had a depression and two World Wars. My parents went through the Cold War.

I know that when I started college in 1978, the world seemed to be in terrible shape and I wondered whether I would ever own my own home or have a life that was as good as that of my parents. As a matter of fact, I’ve ended up living a much more luxurious life than my parents had, and my parents were also fortunate to retire after successful careers through the 1980s and 1990s. What made me feel so insecure in 1978?

Problems this Generation's Parents Faced

I started college in 1978, so I am a little older than some of my student's parents, but at 55, I'm probably fairly representative of my generation. When my generation sat in those college desks in 1978, these are the problems we worried about:

  • Energy crisis: We were running out of oil. With prices skyrocketing and unrest in Middle East (hostage crisis), America seemed on the verge of losing our position as world leader.
  • Watergate and Watergate tapes: We believed our President had been a crook. Moreover, the process of learning about Watergate made us believe the political process and politicians were corrupt and suspect.
  • Housing Crisis: With interest rates over 20%, people could not afford to buy homes or invest in real estate.
  • The belief that the U.S. was in a decline: We felt our nation was being pulled apart and would possibly be defeated by Soviet Union (militarily), or Japan (economically).
  • Overpopulation: We watched pictures of starving children and saw statistics of the soaring world population and firmly believed that the we would soon run out of food and find the world subject to regular famines.

20th Century Solutions

Nixon and Mao in China.  This visit sparked a different world order and the advent of everything from cheap clothing to Happy Meal Toys in the U.S.
Nixon and Mao in China. This visit sparked a different world order and the advent of everything from cheap clothing to Happy Meal Toys in the U.S. | Source

Game changers: Unexpected Solutions in the 1980s and beyond

Instead of living my adult life in a world of Apocalypse, I've actually seen many things in my life get much better. How did it happen? Here are just a few of the things that I can think of that changed the world I have lived in to be a better place than I ever imagined it could be in 1978.

  • Nixon went to China: opened up the way for trade which gave America a lot of stuff cheaper.
  • Space Program benefits: many products and technology made things better and cheaper.
  • ·New Oil Resources found: research and development found new sources for oil and technological improvements made it possible to get at oil that wasn’t available before—for the next 30 years oil becomes cheaper than it had ever been before.
  • Computers and technology: we had imagined (at World of Tomorrow at Disneyland) the idea of a screen that would let people talk to one another and see each other’s faces. Nothing like what we really experience with internet, computers, cell phones and all that comes with Web 2 and Web 3 was really even a part of science fiction.
  • Green Revolution: researchers and farmers found a way to make more food by breeding better seeds and using fertilizers.
  • Chinese One Child Policy (begun in early 1970s) actually worked to slow population growth in China and prevented starvation.
  • Education of women worked to slow population growth worldwide.
  • Reagan’s buildup of the military eventually turned the tide in the Cold War. The Soviet Union breaks up due to internal division and rebellion. The Berlin Wall comes down and trade opened up.
  • U.S. economy has a boom, instead of a bust in the 1980s and 1990s. People in the U.S. are richer, have more stuff and live more luxuriously. Houses increase in size, people eat out more and everyone considers having full access to technology as a “right” (i.e.: even people on welfare have cell phones, usually nicer ones than I have!).
  • Politicians become people under scrutiny, and we get used to it. Compared to the rest of the world, our government is actually fairly stable. We get used to political figures not being particularly upright. Investigative reporting and sensationalism in news becomes commonplace. Our presidents are not treated as kings. They “tweet” and go on talk shows instead.

Glass of the Future

21 Century Students Imagine the Future

The students in college today have seen the smart phone go from something their parent's had, to something they got late in high school, to something they now see being given out to their elementary school younger siblings and cousins. These students tell me, "The next generation is the real technology generation. They won't be able to remember not being connected to the Internet 24/7."

What will that future be like? I ask my students to tell me what they imagine the world will be like 20 years from now. The following chart represents some of their answers.

What Will the Future Be Like in Thirty Years?

Changes in Schooling
Changes in Work
Technology Changes
Living Changes
iPad textbooks
Skype and Facetime for business
Phones replaced by Google Glasses
Recycling everything
Kids can learn concepts earlier and faster using technology.
Continual need to be re-trained in technology
Phone used for everything
No more paper products like books or magazines.
More online learning.
Cloud storage for everything.
No keys or credit cards. Phone or implanted microchip.
Music and cable choices more individualized.
College education will be seen as increasingly necessary.
More security issues and problems with hackers.
Transportation more fuel efficient.
Entertainment and news gets more extreme and violent.
Kids will learn to write on tablets.
May work from home.
Solar or hydrogen powered cars and aircraft.
Everything will be less work. Machines will do the work for us.
Take tests using technology.
Need for college education for good job will continue.
More mass transit.
Obesity and Alzheimers may cause health care costs to rise.
Digital technology will change teaching.
Jobs will still need social interaction.
Video games may merge more with reality and may take person on active adventure.
Worry about security of information.
Taken from opinion polls in my classes from 2010-2015

What Solutions Will this Generation Find?

The list of problems in the table above that they are concerned about are similar in some ways to the ones which faced their parents. However, many, like use of technology and cyber terrorism, are different.

What creative solutions will your generation find? How will you be a part of finding solutions?

Larger problems can seem impossible to solve, but when you break a large problem into smaller aspects, then you can start to see and act on solutions. One aspect of local level solutions are non-profit organizations. I have my students write a research essay on a non-profit institution in order to see how individuals are able to help solve problems through volunteering or even starting a non-profit charitable organization. By investigating how one non-profit organization works, students will be discovering the process that one group has gone through in trying to solve a problem.

What do you think is the most serious problem this generation will face?

See results without voting

Should We Still Dream About Space?

New Technology Can Solve Problems

How can current college students solve social problems in their generation? Many of the problems of the past have been solved through developing new technologies. See the videos below for some ideas of how technologies being developed right now can help solve problems in creative ways.

Can Gaming Make a Better World?

Video Games to Solve 21 Century Problems?

Jane McGonigal's believes that people can solve real world problems by using the skills they have learned to in video games. McGonigal talks about how students spend 10,080 hours in class from 5th to 12th grade, but spend an equal amount of time doing video games. Just what are they learning in this alternative track of education?

She cites Malcom Gladwell's book Outliers which argues that any person who concentrates to learn something for 10,000 hours before they are 21 becomes a virtuoso at that ability. So what are gamers learning?

She believes they are learning how to solve problems in a virtual world and that those skills can be transferred to helping people solve real world problems. See the video to find out more!

People Solve Problems with Institutions

Another way to solve problems is through creativity and hard work of people. College students today may want to aim for a career in government, business, medicine, or law so that they can help change policies and develop new programs to help.

Another way to tackle a problem is to start an Non-Government Organization to try to solve it. Many NGO organizations start out with just one person and then grow as that person's vision is caught by others. How do you start a Non-Profit? See below for the basic steps of how it works.

Solving World Problems

21st Century Students Participating in Solving Problems
21st Century Students Participating in Solving Problems | Source

How to Start a Non-Profit to Solve a Problem

What is great about Non-Profits is that anyone can start one. If you see a problem and want to do something about it, you can! How does that work? I use the example of wanting to help kids learn in a low performing school. Here are the basic steps for starting your own organization to help solve a problem:

  1. Identify the larger problem (example: kids don’t do well in school).
  2. Consider the possible causes of that problem (poor schools, bad teachers, poor teacher training, unruly classrooms, bad parents, bad neighborhoods, learning disabilities, substance abuse, lack of school resources, lack of role models, lack of motivation, kids move around too much etc.)
  3. Decide one cause which you want to focus on (kids need role models).
  4. Brainstorm ways that cause can be solved (mentor one on one, small groups with college student to tutor, work with parents to be better role models, have college students do internships at school, have motivational speakers).
  5. Choose one or more ways to address that cause and try to effect change (one on one mentoring).
  6. Create a plan for how to do it (pair college students up with one child to mentor throughout their years at school).
  7. Gather volunteers, money and other resources you need (Hire a person to be in charge who will investigate resources to train mentors, develop a program and make website. Set goals for program.)
  8. Decide how you will evaluate whether you have achieved your goals. (Survey of parents, mentors, students and teachers. Compare student’s grades, test scores and reading level to previous year.).
  9. Put the plan into effect. (Recruit college students to be mentors. Train mentors. Have meetings with school and arrange how kids will be chosen who need mentors. Set up guidelines for mentorship and have meetings with parents, kids and college students. Host a mentor/mentee introduction event. Track progress of relationships. Have periodic meeting with mentors. )
  10. Evaluate how well you met your goals and whether you have helped the problem. (Establish an evaluation system. Be sure to collect data from the parents, the college students, the kids and the school. Collect all data and analyze at end of first year. )
  11. Adjust your plan to try to make it more effective. (How effective was the program at helping kids do better in school? Were there other goals that were met? How can the program be changed to make it more effective? Does the outcome of the program match the goals?) .

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Comments 13 comments

lakshmanan 19 months ago

We are not try to create a base to solve problems differently. We use what we have and trying to solve using it. Just think differently to learn and use a device for each one and in turn it can be a wonderful think for concern people to use it. We already have enough resources but we are only using it for specific needs is a big issue in solving global problems.


melnes92 3 years ago

@ erickcb

I'd have to strongly agree with you. The idealistic and borderline irrational notion that college kids today have it all together and will change the world is a bit..well..idealistic! Considering that many if not most american college/university students will inevitably be saddled with a debt they are "expected" to begin repaying upon graduation, most of which takes years and years to pay off. I personally know doctors who are still paying off their hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of loans/debt. This is a bleak future for most college goers. Unfortunately most will accept this debt as another bill tacked on to their monthly expenses and pay it off with a smile. I empathize with your comment regarding being brushed off as a conspiracy theorist. You will encounter such answers many many times from people who are too comfortable to refuse their reality. I know I'm sure not okay with paying back the government for something that should be a readily available and cheap if not free (!) right! Education! College debt is a remarkably brilliant way of distracting graduates from making the impact they rightly want on the world. It'll instead be replaced with a generalized apathy. Want to move abroad? No sorry, you have to pay off your college expenses first. Way to crush people's dreams. And that is how you produce another generation of young people who won't want to bother with changing the world. Scare them with the prospect of losing their car or home. This is not a negative, pessimistic outlook. This is a realistic one. This is how college works. Once people realize that higher education is an industry, one that generates billions of dollars a year, they will see that it is nothing more than that. An industry that wants your money. If you don't pay them back, even an outstanding trivial lab fee or parking permit, they won't let you register for another semester. Remember, in today's world money comes first. A truth, however negative or bleak, is still a truth.


brendalyniweh profile image

brendalyniweh 4 years ago

I believe college students can solve today's world problems. Just by being a college student we are already preparing ourselves to be better in order to help our community and the world we live in. Just by being a college student we make up the percentage of education in America. Just by being a college student we are shaping the way for our future in order to make a change. So yes, college students can and do solve the worlds problems.


VirginiaLynne profile image

VirginiaLynne 4 years ago from United States Author

Thanks so much Ashley! I have so much enjoyed getting to know you in class too. I have seen your writing grow and improve so much and I'm especially glad that you have grown more confident in writing too!


Ashleybird15 profile image

Ashleybird15 4 years ago from Baylor University

As a student of Mrs. Kearney, I have loved her as a teacher! That is why I took her for both of my English's. She has helped me grow as a writer, so much so that I actually enjoy writing. I can tell that she loves teaching and she is very passionate about it. I am going to miss you as a teacher Mrs. Kearney!!!


VirginiaLynne profile image

VirginiaLynne 4 years ago from United States Author

Thanks so much Paul!


Paul Kuehn profile image

Paul Kuehn 4 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand

Virginia, this has always been the case in world history. I,m sharing this article.


VirginiaLynne profile image

VirginiaLynne 4 years ago from United States Author

Paul--you make a very good point. We need our young people to be willing to think out of the box and approach problems from a new way.


Paul Kuehn profile image

Paul Kuehn 4 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand

College students can definitely help solve world problems because most are very idealistic and are willing to gamble with new ideas which more conservative older people would reject. If any type of revolution is going to take place, the first thing necessary is the defection of intellectuals from the old world order. College students are intellectuals.


VirginiaLynne profile image

VirginiaLynne 4 years ago from United States Author

Thanks for reading my hub erickcb. I really appreciate your comments. Your thoughts are exactly why I wrote this hub and why I do this research project. How will the world look in the next 30 years? I'm not sure, but I do know that the last 30 have surprised me. I do think that if college students seek to be problem solvers it will make a difference. Our University is pretty big, about 14,000, and most of the students are involved in some sort of community service and many of them study with the intent of doing work for others in the future. However, I did teach at a large public University which was more like what you describe. But don't lose hope! If you can't change all the world, you can work to change a small part and that makes your life meaningful and joyful.


erickcb 4 years ago

I am a college student, and based off of the culture today, I would say no. College students today can not solve the world's problems. Critical thinking skills are a joke now. People do not even go for the learning, it is more like a social event. People smoke and drink around the campus, and most people will admit they just go for the money and to have something to do. Do they really care about the world's future? I have to say no. They are young and reckless, only worried about staying young and partying. The future looks bleak from where I am standing. Btw, your list of problems are spot on. Not many people will recognize the deepening problems we are facing as a whole (humanity). I tried to get people talking about what is going on in the world but most will laugh it off and call it conspiracy. Sigh.

Great Hub though.


VirginiaLynne profile image

VirginiaLynne 4 years ago from United States Author

Thanks so much xstatic--I really enjoyed writing this for my own sake. As my oldest is getting ready for college herself in two years, it has made me think back on what my life was like and how I viewed the world in 1978!


xstatic profile image

xstatic 4 years ago from Eugene, Oregon

An incredibly well thought out Hub and a very creative way to get students to look at their world and the problems they face. Seems to me you covered the seventies problems really well. I can't add a thing. Excellent work!

I hope your students realize what a good teacher they have.

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