The days are getting shorter, and the first hints of autumn are in the air. The first day of school is just around the corner.
Do you remember the anticipation of a new school year: Who would be your teacher? Which friends would be in your class? What should you wear?
The same excitement and questions exist today. But that’s where the similarity ends - our generation would not even recognize the classroom of 2022. As society has undergone instrumental changes, the education system has had to respond accordingly. Although A, B, C’s and 1, 2, 3’s are still important, they, alone, simply don’t meet the needs of today’s young people who have to find their way and, in fact, will take over the world.
Chris Drew, PhD, in his article 7 Key Features of 21st Century Learning (helpfulprofessor.com), describes my generation’s learning perfectly: “one size fits all . . . memorization of information, transmission of information from teacher to student, filling your mind up with facts. . . teacher as authority, passive students . . .” And of course, it goes without saying that technology was limited to archaic machines such as the mimeograph machine (oh, that smell!) and the overhead projector. Yes, we sat in rows, and the teacher stood at the front, and we thought he/she knew everything.
In the last couple of years, I’ve seen the teachers in my family prepare for the week’s lessons, creating interesting, in depth, exciting projects that would have been completely foreign to my elementary school teachers.
Chris Drew explains why. Adapting from work by R. Bolstad, et al., he advises us that, in order to prepare our children for independence, the focus for 21st century learning must be: “personalized learning, equity, diversity and inclusivity, learning through doing, rethinking learner and teacher roles, community relationships, technology, teacher professionalism.” Students needs to learn in a manner that suits them which might mean different methods of teaching and assessment. They need to learn in an environment with diversity in all ways – financial, ethnic, gender, physical, spiritual, and mental. Instead of simply being told the material, they need to learn in a hands-on, discovery, problem-solving, and trial and error environment. Teachers become more like facilitators as students take an active role in learning. There needs to be reliance on experts in the community, recognizing that teachers cannot be specialized in everything. Technology must be used as a “cognitive tool” for learning. Teachers need, and deserve, ongoing training to be up to date on the most current trends of teaching, of technology, and of society.
So the classroom has changed significantly since we sat in rows and listened intently. Now, I am not a teacher, but when I look at what is expected of education today, it seems students have to learn so much and teachers, as Chris Drew says, have a “much more complicated” role than in the last century. They have to be attuned to different learning styles, creativity, inclusivity, societal changes, community involvement, and technology.
Our education was good for our time. We were given exactly what we needed to ‘make it’ in society as it was then (and we were even able to figure out technology when it became a necessity). But the students today will thrive in the classroom, just as we did. Really, by the time they reach first grade, multi-level learning and inclusivity and technology are already normal for them. They will receive the skills they need for society as it is now and in the near future. And I know that our generation would do well today, too. With the 21st century philosophies of teaching and learning, even I would learn from the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) classes which I would have hated 50 years ago. I might not become a scientist or engineer or computer technologist, but I would learn the transferable skills of discovery, problem solving, and collaboration. And that is the 'trick' of today's education.
So, although I know we were given what we needed at the time, I envy today's students. I think that they will be much more ‘well-rounded’ than we were. A student can still lean towards the arts or the sciences. The key is that he or she will have all the other knowledge and skills to thrive in many different environments, work together, respect others, and make good decisions, along with the A, B, C's and 1, 2, 3's. That’s a glorious thing.
It makes me think of the little kids in our family, getting ready for the school year, maybe their first ever day of school, and the words of my favourite song come to mind:
"I hear babies cry
I watch them grow.
They'll learn much more than I'll ever know
And I think to myself
What a wonderful world." (Louis Armstrong)
Education evolves with society. We get what we need for the times. No doubt, students in 10 or 20 years will be learning substantially different material than the class of 2022. And today's students might even look back and think their own education was a little quaint.
As the first smells of autumn are in the air, I hope the kids are getting excited. And I hope they have a great school year. Education is a right and a privilege.