21st Century Learning Skills and Strategies
Lakshmi Annapurna Chintaluri Independent Education consultant
“You can’t change the fruit without changing the root” – Stephen Covey
The 21st century learners are born in a digital era who are tech savvy at 5, expect reasonable and plausible explanations for accepting the norms set by the society by 10 and social media friendly as teenagers. Their attention span could be all of 8 seconds but is enough to question the conventional wisdom. They have access to information, tools and expertise and have the ability to network and collaborate with learners of similar interests, independent of their age, location or experience. They are ready to take risks, exhibit a “can do” attitude, are more comfortable to learn by trial and error, innovate and are inclined to entrepreneurialism.
The challenges that the educators face in this scenario are manifold. As a first step, they need to visualize the needs and requirements of this generation, try to identify the kind of roles they need to fit into and prepare them with the necessary knowledge, skills, attitudes, values etc., to enable them to cope with the challenges of their tomorrow. This situation is highly complex as today’s educators cannot figure out the kind of jobs that these students of today are expected to take up in their future. Ken Robinson says that the student who joins school today will retire in 2078 and there are no indications to guide us as to what kind of jobs they will take up as statistics show that 65% of the children in school today will be involved in fields, in the next couple of decades, have not even started yet. Hence it is an educator’s responsibility to identify the skills needed for the students and equip them with skills identified as critical thinking, creative thinking, problem solving, good communication, interpersonal skills, logical reasoning, analytical abilities all of which will help develop a student’s personality to enable him to tackle any obstacle in his life proficiently.
“Every Challenge is an Opportunity for personal growth”. The role of a teacher in these circumstances becomes that much more exacting as they have to think, act and perform their numerous roles as mentors, guides, coaches and facilitators with a spirit and attitude that is fundamentally different from the one that is representative of the traditional educator. Andrew Churches insists that the teachers need to be good adaptors, communicators, learners, visionaries, leaders, models, collaborators and risk takers to be able to take up the demands posed by this generation of students and groom them for their future by preparing them for change, teaching them to question and think, to adapt and modify.
In this scenario, it becomes imperative for a teacher to introspect and develop certain characteristics and groom their personality. Stephen Covey’s “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” provides the teachers with good guidance in this direction. Anger management, goal setting, time management by prioritizing, think win-win, listening with your eyes and heart, teamwork and finally the need to keep oneself updated all the time are habits outlined by him which every teacher needs to acquire.
What is teaching and learning? Sri Aurobindo in his principles of education said “Nothing can be taught, but everything can be learnt!” This principle immediately shifts the focus of learning from the teacher to the learner. This is one of the main aspects of change that today’s teachers need to be aware of. They need to make a conscious effort to transfer the responsibility of learning to the students by creating opportunities in their lesson plans to enable the students to construct knowledge based on their previous knowledge. Students build knowledge through interpretation, analysis, synthesis or evaluation, connect ideas from different academic disciplines, inquire, think critically, gain knowledge, draw conclusions, make informed decisions, apply knowledge to new situations and create new knowledge, share knowledge and participate ethically and productively as members of our democratic society, pursue personal and aesthetic growth.
Strategies have to be adopted by teachers to enable students to be active learners, to develop thinking skills, to solve problems, to develop a solution to a problem that is new or design a complex product that meets a set of requirements, innovate when they put a creative design or piece of thinking into practice. Students are ready to self-regulate when they work on long-term projects with multiple parts, plan their own work and monitor their progress, assess the quality of their own work when they understand expectations before the assignment is completed.
To sum up, Dr A P J Abdul Kalam had a message of encouragement for those willing to change with a suggestion for those showing resistance. He said very succinctly “You cannot change your future, but you can change your habits, and surely your habits will change your future”. So, the questions to be asked here are “Are our teachers/educators ready to accept the challenges and seize the opportunity to become changemakers in the society today?” and “do they have a choice?”.