• Coronavirus-related disruption can give educators time to rethink the sector.
• Technology has stepped into the breach, and will continue to play a key role in educating future generations.
• In a world where knowledge is a mouse-click away, the role of the educator must change too.
Not since World War II have so many countries around the world seen schools and educational institutions go into lockdown at around the same time and for the same reason. While we know that the impact of this virus will be far-reaching, what might it mean in the longer term for education?
For a while now, educators around the world have been talking about the need to rethink how we educate future generations. This might just be the disruption that the sector needed to get us all to rethink how we educate, and question what we need to teach and what we are preparing our students for. So, as we educators grapple with the new ways of communicating with our students away from our classrooms and lecture theatres, it is a good time to reflect on how this disruptive crisis can help us define what learning should look like for Generations Z, Alpha and beyond.
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The majority of students in our educational institutions today are from Generation Z, a generation that has grown up in a truly globalized world. This generation, the oldest of whom are now 25 years old, is likely to be reflecting on their education as a result of a truly global pandemic, with many facing cancelled exams, sporting events and even graduation. This generation is defined by technology, where the terms FOBA (Fear of Being Alone) and FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) express their expectation of instant communication and feedback – effected through apps like Instant Messenger, Snapchat and WhatsApp. That includes from parents and educators, something being amplified with the current remote learning.
This is also a generation that sees the power of working collaboratively to solve the world’s biggest challenges – climate change and mental health being top on their agenda, and at present their collective responsibility to self-isolate to protect older members of the community.
Generation Alpha, the children of millennials, are the most racially diverse generation across the world, and one in which technology is simply an extension of their own consciousness and identity, with social media being a way of life. These young pre-schoolers are also the generation with the most non-traditional family structures, often with “bulldozer parents” who move obstacles out of the way to create a clear path for their kids. While Generation Alpha is at this point possibly oblivious to the impact of the global pandemic on their education, the impact will surely be felt even for our youngest learners for years to come.
In the midst of this COVID-19 crisis, we are sure that fellow educators, like us, are wondering what we need to be preparing our students for in the future. According to a Dell Technologies report, 85% of the jobs in 2030 that Generation Z and Alpha will enter into have not been invented yet. According to this World Economic Forum report, 65% of primary-school children today will be working in job types that do not exist yet.
The COVID-19 crisis may well change our world and our global outlook; it may also teach us about how education needs to change to be able to better prepare our young learners for what the future might hold. These lessons include:
1. Educating citizens in an interconnected world
COVID-19 is a pandemic that illustrates how globally interconnected we are – there is no longer such a thing as isolated issues and actions. Successful people in the coming decades need to be able to understand this interrelatedness and navigate across boundaries to leverage their differences and work in a globally collaborative way.
2. Redefining the role of the educator
The notion of an educator as the knowledge-holder who imparts wisdom to their pupils is no longer fit for the purpose of a 21st-century education. With students being able to gain access to knowledge, and even learn a technical skill, through a few clicks on their phones, tablets and computers, we will need to redefine the role of the educator in the classroom and lecture theatre. This may mean that the role of educators will need to move towards facilitating young people’s development as contributing members of society.
3. Teaching life skills needed for the future
In this ever-changing global environment, young people require resilience and adaptability – skills that are proving to be essential to navigate effectively through this pandemic. Looking into the future, some of the most important skills that employers will be looking for will be creativity, communication and collaboration, alongside empathy and emotional intelligence; and being able to work across demographic lines of differences to harness the power of the collective through effective teamwork.
4. Unlocking technology to deliver education
The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in educational institutions across the world being compelled to suddenly harness and utilize the suite of available technological tools to create content for remote learning for students in all sectors. Educators across the world are experiencing new possibilities to do things differently and with greater flexibility resulting in potential benefits in accessibility to education for students across the world. These are new modes of instruction that have previously been largely untapped particularly in the kindergarten to Grade 12 arena.
What is the World Economic Forum doing about the coronavirus outbreak?
Responding to the COVID-19 pandemic requires global cooperation among governments, international organizations and the business community, which is at the centre of the World Economic Forum’s mission as the International Organization for Public-Private Cooperation.
Since its launch on 11 March, the Forum’s COVID Action Platform has brought together 1,667 stakeholders from 1,106 businesses and organizations to mitigate the risk and impact of the unprecedented global health emergency that is COVID-19.
The platform is created with the support of the World Health Organization and is open to all businesses and industry groups, as well as other stakeholders, aiming to integrate and inform joint action.
As an organization, the Forum has a track record of supporting efforts to contain epidemics. In 2017, at our Annual Meeting, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) was launched – bringing together experts from government, business, health, academia and civil society to accelerate the development of vaccines. CEPI is currently supporting the race to develop a vaccine against this strand of the coronavirus.
Most importantly, it is our hope that for Generation Z, Alpha and the generations to come, these experiences of isolation and remote learning away from their peers, teachers and classrooms will serve as a cautious reminder of the importance of our human need for face-to-face social interaction.