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Some thoughts on educating Gen Z

25 Mar 2020 / 21:12 H.

    I OFTEN read with interest how technological change affects the education of the Gen Z, who are our students today. Often, the opinion is, we need to adopt technology in the educational process. However, adopting technology is just the first step.

    Are the educational needs so different from the past? “Well, yes and no”.

    I have two growing up children. One thing I notice about them is the speed of their speech. They speak in complete sentences, but they speak so fast. Once I asked them, “why do you have to speak so fast”? Their answer is that “On YouTube, you have limited time to convey your message, so you need to be fast to convey more ...” That is also an indication their brains work faster than mine! Speed is an obvious difference in the world they are growing up in compared with mine.

    Secondly, I notice young people are very informed, but may not be “well” informed. We were very ignorant in the past. The current generation is very exposed. They are growing up in an information age, so this is hardly a surprise.

    The information available to them is so vast; there are ample opportunities to learn something. I am amazed by the number of things my son learns from YouTube given his young age, but they may not necessarily be exposed to the right things. Also, there are plenty of distractions.

    Based on these two points alone, how are we going to design an education programme for our Gen Z?

    There are basically two aspects of education, ie the pedagogy and the content. We need to teach differently because our audiences are different. We need to speak their “language”, that is for sure.

    Thus, adopting the technology that they are familiar with is “a must step”. However, we need to dwell deeper to know what interests them but more importantly, what they really need to learn.

    We need to be conscious though, basic educational objectives never change, they may take a different form now, but their essence stays the same throughout history.

    Education in a simple society basically tries to impart two things, ie the skills needed to survive – be it hunting or planting – and the culture of the society, which includes the value system, religion/belief system and social system.

    In modern society, things look more complicated but essentially they are the same. Every education system will have to teach our children skills for their economic survival and all the cultural elements to live in our society. As our society gets more complicated, the skills needed get more complex and the culture becomes more diverse. The speed of changes further adds to the complications.

    In the past, we used to teach our children a specific skill for them to make a living in their lifetime, but now with the pace of change they may need to learn more than one skill to cater to their lifetime. Better still if they are taught the skills to acquire new skills along the way with the acquisition of one particular skill.

    Such skills are languages, mathematics, logic, abstract thinking, creativity and so on. We often call these transferable skills, which, in my opinion, our education system should subtly place more importance. For example, I observed for years that our millennials have many bright ideas, but they often lack the ability to string them into a logically coherent argument, while some of us are not any better!

    This is probably due to the overexposure to fast-paced media such as MVs, short clips, animations and comics. On the other hand, they lack patience in reading long novels and long-winded textbooks, which their parents are more used to. We also notice the popularity of some shorter, slimmer texts such as revision notes and other short-cut materials. These are, of course, popular for good reasons however, they may have repercussions on our millennials.

    Going back to the long-winded text and narrative may not be a good option, given the fast-paced environment we are facing.

    Finding new ways to inculcate the ability to form profound and coherent logical arguments remains important because this will ensure progress in our civilisation.

    I do not have all the answers on how to make this happen but finding the answer should be a constant effort of all educators.

    Dr See Hoon Peow is an anthropologist by training and CEO of Berjaya University College. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com

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