Wednesday July 24, 2024

Rethinking education

By Sabur Ali Sayyid
September 22, 2023

Why slog through the halls of traditional schools when the internet can turbocharge your learning from the comfort of your couch? Is it still relevant to stuff your brain with facts when your trusty smartphone, right in your pocket, can unlock the gates to boundless knowledge?

These are some of the questions that education institutions are wrestling with today, especially as they strive to shape the minds of Generation Z and Generation Alpha, the digital dynamos of our age.

Generation Z, born between 1995 and 2009, and Generation Alpha, born since 2010, are a breed apart from their predecessors. For them, the digital world is second nature. Smartphones, iPads, 3D TVs, Instagram, and music streaming apps are as common as the air they breathe.

Growing up in this digital jungle has its perks. These young individuals have a treasure trove of information at their fingertips, able to delve into any topic without budging from their rooms. These digital natives, spanning Generations Z and Alpha, are not merely comfortable with technology, they are coding wizards, rendering their grandparents’ book-flipping skills ancient relics.

Educating these tech-savvy generations to navigate the complexities of the digital age while fostering creativity and critical thinking is an immense challenge. It is essential to keep pace with the rapid transformations brought about by digitalization, virtualization, gamification, and evolving content.

While some nations and collaborative bodies, such as the European Union, have recognized the urgency and initiated measures to address these challenges, educationists and policymakers in Pakistan and many other regions are yet to fully grasp the gravity of the situation. It is crucial to initiate a strategic dialogue – similar to the EU’s approach – to establish guidelines for meeting these emerging challenges.

In this endeavour, it is imperative to recognize that rather than reinventing the wheel, we can draw inspiration from time-tested education models, designs, and tools from around the world. For instance, the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework, originally formulated by Ronald L Mace at North Carolina State University, offers valuable insights. UDL emphasizes presenting information in multiple formats, recognizing that textbooks are primarily visual but providing text, audio, video, and hands-on learning options ensures that all students can access the material in ways that suit their learning preferences.

Furthermore, the UDL framework encourages offering students multiple ways to engage with the material and demonstrate their understanding. This includes options like pencil-and-paper tests, oral presentations, or group projects. It also promotes creative strategies to motivate students, such as incorporating gamified elements and incorporating physical movement into the classroom.

Another area of paramount importance is extended reality (XR) technologies, which encompass a spectrum of immersive experiences ranging from real-world simulations to fully immersive virtual environments. XR includes technologies like 3D scanning and printing, augmented reality, mixed reality, and virtual reality.

These technologies offer students unique learning opportunities that are both hands-on and boundary-defying. As XR technologies continue to integrate into educational settings, Generation Alpha will have unprecedented access to abstract concepts, enabling them to acquire knowledge and skills beyond anything previous generations experienced.

To cater to the needs of Generation Z and Generation Alpha, policymakers and educators should shift their focus away from content, which is already abundantly available. Instead, they should prioritize the development of critical thinking, self-awareness, problem-solving abilities, interpersonal skills, and goal-setting. The key is teaching them not what to think, but how to think.

It is also crucial to recognize that these two generations will largely live in an era characterized by collaboration rather than cutthroat competition. This shift calls for a change in focus, emphasizing collaboration in education.

Collaboration fosters engagement with diverse perspectives, sharing of knowledge, and collective problem-solving. It also mirrors the collaborative nature of the contemporary workforce, where teamwork and effective communication are essential skills. By placing collaboration at the forefront of education, we empower students to become lifelong learners who can contribute effectively to a rapidly evolving society.

As we navigate the digital age with the advent of Generation Z and Generation Alpha, it is imperative that our educational systems adapt to meet their unique needs. Drawing from established models like UDL, harnessing the potential of XR technologies, and emphasizing skills over content, we can prepare these generations to thrive in an era characterized by collaboration, innovation, and constant change.

Neglecting the burgeoning trends in education carries grave implications for individuals and society alike. The refusal to adopt these trends may lead to an education system that grows progressively out of touch with the demands of a globalized, knowledge-driven era.

To safeguard the relevance and efficacy of our education institutions, it is imperative that we remain attuned to the needs of future generations, including Gen Z and Alpha, and capitalize on these trends to cultivate individuals who are versatile, adaptable, and forward-thinking.

The writer is an Islamabad-based

researcher with a special interest in India, Pakistan and regional affairs. He can be reached at: