Why should we drastically change the way we provide our students learning experiences? According to former Secretary of Education Richard Riley, the top 10 in-demand jobs in 2010 didn’t exist in 2004. By the time today’s high school students take up jobs a decade later, many of those jobs would have died a natural death. Therefore our current methods may be irrelevant and inappropriate in preparing students for tomorrow’s jobs which may be radically different from what they are today.
In today’s knowledge driven world, students have plenty of sources to bank on. Well, the primary source is no longer the educator, but Google or Wikipedia. Even reference books like Encyclopedia Britannica are outdated because it gets printed only once a year. Wikipedia on the other hand gets updated round the clock. It is this aspect of Wikipedia that forced Encyclopedia Britannica to propose accepting additions, deletions and corrections from the general public in their online version – which by the way is not free like Wikipedia.
Today’s teacher can make the difference only when s/he teaches pupils the way how to sift the chaff from the grain from this plethora of information and use the relevant information in the best possible way. Learning by inquiry is what is needed. Pupils must get to answer open ended questions that will make them analyze, synthesize and create. Instead of teaching subjects we must teach children. For this to happen, we must not really depend on the text book but use it only as a prop to source information.
The focus of our teaching should be to engage students so that they build their PLTS (Personal Learning Thinking Skills). Pupils should be taught content to develop their skills, attitudes and competencies. What are the 21st century skills that students need in a knowledge based economy? Learning to collaborate with others and connecting through technology are top in the list. Assessment & Teaching of 21st Century Skills (ATC21S) led by the University of Melbourne, a worldwide collaboration sponsored by CISCO, INTEL and Microsoft, divides these skills under four broad heads:
- Ways of Thinking: Creativity, Critical Thinking, Problem solving, decision making and learning
- Ways of Working: Communication and Collaboration
- Tools for Working: ICT and Information Literacy
- Skills for Living in the World: Citizenship, life and career, personal and social responsibility
If we as teachers need to equip the pupils entrusted to our care with all the above skills, we must stop cramming information in pupils’ heads and ask then to regurgitate in an answer sheet in the examination hall. Understanding concepts, applying them in practical or even real life situations as well as weaving in opportunities for analysis, synthesis and creation is what must happen in classrooms.
Over and above all these, today’s pupils must be imparted the skill to indulge in lifelong learning – be it at 17, 37 or 67 years, they must be able to keep on learning. For this our classrooms must become hubs where thinking is churned; inquiry is facilitated. There is a complete shift in the role of the teacher – from the seeming ‘fountain head of wisdom’ to the facilitator to the mentor and finally the coach.
Though it might seem a difficult option for the teacher, it is not as difficult as it is made to be. Acceptance of the need for change is the first and foremost step. Once that barrier is broken, things will fall beautifully into shape. I am sure we owe this to our students.
- Gilbert, Ian; (2010) Why Do I Need a Teacher When I’ve Got Google? The essential guide to the big issues for every twenty first century teacher: Routledge