It is heartening to see that the present government has taken a keen interest in the country’s education system, and is planning to bring in reforms based on the individual and societal needs on the one hand and international trends on the other. The main purpose of this article is to draw the attention of all those who are concerned with the national education system to an essentially important factor which cannot be overlooked when introducing new education policy and restructuring the education system to suit the present-day requirements.
Admittedly, there are some pertinent questions to be raised about the exiting formal education system. Have we authentically discovered the nature of the present-day student? Does the formal education given to them in the school system cater to their individual needs? Have we actually got a very good understanding of who the future students would be in five years’ time? Are the present-day students ready to accept what their teachers have to teach them? And have the students got tired of the education given to them in the school system?
The ever widening generation gap has more than any other time of the country’s history seems to have created a big number of educational issues which must be immediately addressed through education reforms. Or else any attempts taken for developing the quality of the national education system will not be fruitful, for this huge gap has brought a situation in which the true nature of the younger generation does not appear to have been correctly understood.
People living today have been grouped into a number of generations particularly depending on the period they were born and their specific characteristics. Each generation, it is said, consists of approximately 20–year span with a unique set of values. They generally react to the generation before them, and specially look at their generation as the standard of comparison. Accordingly, the following are the six different types of generations
• Great Generation-born before 1929 (ages 86+)
• Silent/Traditionalist-born 1929–1945 (ages 70–85)
• Baby Boomers-born 1946–1963 (ages 52–69)
• Generation X-born 1964–1980 (ages 35–51)
• Y Generation-born 1981–1995 (ages 20–34)
• Generation Z-born 1996–present (oldest are 19)
Thus, the student population today belongs to the Z generation, and they are the children of X generation. The problem in the formal education system today is that a set of people plan and implement educational programmes to a set of students without a good understanding of their basic characteristics. One can argue that this problem has been there over the whole history of mankind. Yes, it is true. But we must take into consideration that Z generation is entirely a different set of students with their own values and ambitions.
Native digital speakers
Students today are all “native speakers” of the digital language of computers, video games, instantaneous communication and the Internet. For example, if you give a cellular phone to a student in suppose Grade 4 or any student belonging to Z generation who has never touched a phone before, he or she will show you all the applications within it with simple manipulation. How have they got this ability? Because they have been born with this ability. Their teachers, the majority of whom belong to X generation do not have these skills. This gap today seems to have become one of the biggest problems in the field of education, and if the present day teachers do not try to be digital in their classroom work they will not be able to do their work. However, two options are available for them: either to learn this new technology or to retire.
Digital Immigrant teachers who often speak an outdated language (that of the pre-digital age), today seem to struggle to teach a population that speaks an entirely new language.
AS McCrindel Mark says schools offer ICT and technology as subjects yet for the students today it is like the air they breathe and they think and process information fundamentally differently from their predecessors or their teachers. Therefore, education policy-planners have this arduous task of brining in innovative ways of preparing the present-day teachers for their job. That is to say teachers have to learn to communicate in the language and style of their students.
David C. Hayward and G. Lukman (Oxford University) show that “increased development of higher cognitive skills and improving self-regulation is central to wider concerns about promoting lifelong learning. To make sure more young people are successful in developing these attributes requires access to powerful learning environments which are often heavily reliant on digital technologies”. Therefore, time has come to change the learning environments of our students so that they can engage themselves in a digital learning environment.
Many parents complain that their children are very often either with their cellular phones, computers or in front of the TV. What we must understand is that this is because of their nature, and thus, we must seek avenues to exploit the situation in order to make a good learning environment for them.
It has been found that the students of the Z generation can carry out a number of tasks (normally 5) at the same time. Therefore, we cannot expect the students just to get themselves glued to what the teachers are saying in the classroom. Since they are a generation that gives priority to independent thinking, it is one of the important duties of the teachers to plan and implement their lessons in such a way so that their students can become more independent in their learning process and to challenge the exiting knowledge by constructing their own knowledge of what they learn. The lessons must therefore consist of multi-tasks in order to cater to the needs of the students.
Teachers are no longer the providers of knowledge to their students, and the time of conformity is long gone. Undoubtedly, today the teachers’ task is not to make their students either accept or conform to the knowledge presented to them by various sources including their teachers themselves . Instead, what they need today is to deconstruct the exiting knowledge and to generate new concepts relevant to the modern-day life.
Visual learners and doers
Students today are more interested in visually prepared lessons, and the period of auditory learning, the act of merely listening to the teachers’ boring insipid lessons is now in the past. Have our teachers already understood and shouldered this challenge? With the fast spreading digital world the traditional learning and teaching styles are going into oblivion. The graphics and other visual sources such as social media, PowerPoint presentations, videos, films, and u-tubes have already attracted the student generation. It is not merely because of the technological advancement, but we must not forget the fact that it is now in their blood, that is their nature.
The other important thing is they are more interested to learn things by doing not by passively listening to their teachers. The classroom environment should therefore be a one where there are worthwhile opportunities for the students to learn things by doing them through experiential learning. By nature they prefer collaborative work. Since they are a generation who seek diversity in every sphere this collaborative work helps immensely for their cognitive development. Cognitive development is achieved through social interaction.
In conclusion, the Ministry of Education with the collaboration of its constituent institutions such as NIE, Examinations Department, National Colleges of Education and Teacher Centres have to take cognizance of the characteristics of this Z generation in planning and implementing whatever changes to be brought into the national education system. Or else our formal education will definitely be outright rejected by them.