Preparing Students for the 21st Century Learning Environment
Schools were once predominantly about knowledge - they were designed to select those students who were the "wisest" so that they could be further educated and become the leaders of society. Those who were not "wise" left the education system and became workers in industry or on the land as this was predominantly an industrial age. The "wise" were selected by a system (usually written examinations that only 50% were allowed to pass) that asked them to show that they had absorbed the knowledge of their teachers. In this education system teachers knew the facts and taught them to their students who tried to absorb them and recall them later. Things were learned just in case you needed them sometime. The longer you were at school, the more knowledge you were supposed to learn. In the classroom the focus was often on rote learning, competition, text books and rules.
What has changed? We are now well into what has been called the knowledge age. New technologies mean that knowledge is no longer "owned" by just a few. Students do not need to accumulate lots of facts because they can find them easily when they need to use them just-in-time rather than just in case learning. For this to be effective information needs to be available anywhere, and anytime. However, with so much information available, students need skills of determining things such as whether the information is accurate, whether the information is accurate, whether the information is important, and what further questions the information raises. Teachers need to be facilitators in a classroom, assisting students to evaluate and apply knowledge and how to work together to solve problems and create solutions.
This technology is changing rapidly and continuously. We are now preparing students for a future world they do not yet know. The Wall Street Journal talks about today’s students eventually "having jobs that dont yet exist, using technologies that haven’t yet been invented". To cope with this, students must learn not just to master the technology, but also to be adaptable and capable of learning new skills, processes and applications. They need to be flexible and creative in their thinking. They need to use what they have already learned to construct new understandings and then relate those understandings to future situations. They need to have a strong sense of inquiry and a willingness to be lifelong learners.
Additionally like most of the world, New Zealand is becoming much more diverse because of factors such as increased migration, better means of communication with even the most remote places and rapid transportation capacities. Globalization also means that our actions as a society both influence and have consequences for other societies. Therefore our students must learn to be interdependent, to understand, appreciate and be tolerant of those who are different to them. They need to develop a sense of service to others and to know that they can help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect.
With all these "challenges" on them, our students need qualities such as resilience, determination, persistence and integrity. They need to be independent, capable of making their own choices and understanding how they learn. They need to realise that if they have the capacity to continue to learn throughout life they can met any change and any challenge that might eventuate.
UNESCO in its International Commission on Education in the Twenty First Century talks about equipping [an individual] to seize learning opportunities throughout, both to broaden her or his knowledge, skills and attitudes, and to adapt to a changing, complex and interdependent world. It talks of the four pillars of learning:
- learning to know (learning to learn)
- learning to do (dealing with changing situations and acting creatively)
- learning to live together (developing interdependence and cooperation)
- learning to be (developing autonomy, personal responsibility and sense of potential)
As a school, Takapuna Grammar aims to achieve this by ensuring that our students have these learning capacities: that they become life long learners, equipped to deal with any technological, social or cultural change they might face in the future.
What will the classroom look like?
21st century learning should be characterised by:
- Focus on learning rather than instruction
- Conscious development of thinking skills, metalanguage and constructing knowledge
- ‘Left brain’ thinking necessary but primacy of ‘right brain’ thinking
- Independent thought and conscious concern
- Students encouraged to develop supportive relationships, teamwork skills and emotional intelligence
- Assessment used to promote further learning
- involves generating knowledge not storing it; and is about process not product
- is primarily a group and not an individual activity
- happens in ‘real world’, problem-based contexts
- should be ‘just-in-time’, not ‘just-in-case’
The shift is from an accumulation of knowledgeased credentials which are usually discretely subject or discipline based to a reservoir of strategies, behaviours, skills and values or competencies which are cross-curricular, non-curricular and co-curricular.