If we define today’s world in one word, it would be “change.” The 21st century is truly an age of change and if the education system does not change according to today’s needs, it is sure to collapse. As pointed out by Sir Ken Robinson, a creativity expert, we have to “change paradigms” in order to cater to the educational needs of the 21st century. For this reason, I think most of the countries today are thinking of reforming their public education system. Educating tomorrow’s children, with yesterday’s methods is not at all a good idea.It is true that a change in our education system is the need of the hour.
The reason for this need may be the economic efficiency of our students or the ability to be a global citizen who still has a hold on his/her cultural roots. The iGeneration is the first American generation to be born, almost literally, with a smartphone in hand. Today, our children are flooded with information coming to them through technology. They have access to endless information at their fingertips. We, as educators, can use this for our advantage or this can actually become a distraction for our students and a problem for us. It is due to this, that more and more schools are shifting their curriculum and methods to incorporate technology and media in everyday instructions.
Some schools are providing technology and some schools are following the “Bring Your Own Device” (BYOD) policy for this. According to Project Tomorrow’s annual Speak Up survey, fifty-eight percent of high school students in a national survey said they use their own mobile devices for learning in school, and 47 percent of teachers in the survey reported that their students have regular access to mobile devices in their classrooms. Along with this, most of the schools also provide chromebooks, ipads or some other device with wi-fi connectivity from the school, for most of the core classes, and students can use these on a daily basis in the class.
Due to this, digital literacy has become very important for all of us. As Eric Sheninger pointed out in his article, The Need for Digital Literacy, “although technology enables students to access more information in much less time, it does not always foster learning. Teaching digital literacy helps to manage all of the benefits of technology while helping students understand how to safely weed through the vast amounts of information online.”
This vast amount of information online is the number one distraction for our students these days because they find it interesting and engaging as compared to the traditional and “boring” class work. We need to make our lessons more challenging and engaging for today’s generation. Otherwise, we will and we are losing our students to the more magnetic digital world of technology. This has been rightly pointed out by Marc Prensky in his article, “Engage me or Enrage me.” The students who are truly self-motivated are rare in today’s classrooms. We usually have students who go through the motions and think that they know how to manipulate school work, to get a good grade or we have students who “tune us out” because we fail to engage them and their senses in the class work. Technology can come to the teacher’s rescue here. It can make the lesson not only more interesting, but also challenging enough for our students to perform to the best of their abilities.
But this brings up another problem and I have personally faced this in my class and this problem is of digital equity. Forty-seven percent of surveyed school and district technology leaders said digital equity and students’ out-of-school internet access are among their most challenging issues. “Today, as many as 7 in 10 teachers, assign homework that requires access to the internet and broadband,” said Jessica Rosenworcel, FCC Commissioner, at the Congressional briefing. I am also one such high school teacher. But we need to remember that as many as 1 in 3 households in this country do not subscribe to broadband and this leads to what is called the ‘homework gap.’ I have students come to me and say that they could not finish the homework because they do not have access to the internet or a computer at home. To tackle this problem, I give more time and opportunity to my students to work on these assignments in the class, using the school chromebooks and assign homework which can be completed without the use of technology. This can be an example of using “Blended learning,” and it is showing positive results like the forty-five percent of surveyed districts, where blended learning programs are showing positive results.
Online and blended learning can increase self-directed learning even outside of the classroom, foster divergent thinking and creativity as well as develop and maintain trusted collaboration among students. Collaboration fosters learning, innovation, and development. According to Burns, Crow, and Becker, “collaboration spurs innovation because bringing together groups of people who have different ideas, approaches, experiences, and areas of expertise creates a fertile environment for generating new concepts and methods.”
We need to stop alienating our children from who they actually are and what they are actually interested in. We need to use their interests and capacities to challenge them to improve, learn and innovate. The “factory line” system of school can only create a generation of students who are clearly uninterested and find school boring and irrelevant. This will keep reinforcing our idea of “Fictitious ADHD epidemic” that we think is responsible for our students’ lack of interest and ultimate “failure” at school.
Using technology, along with divergent thinking and creativity, is one of the most important 21st-century skills that our students must have. For developing this skill, we should be using technology more and more in our classrooms for challenging our students’ capacities and engaging them in the process of learning. For this educators should become more digitally literate themselves and then use this knowledge for the benefit of the students of the iGeneration.