Dr. Parimala Srinivasan (Director Academics, Faith Foundation Global School)
Come to the edge; he said
They said, ‘We are afraid’
Come to the edge; he said
They came 
He pushed them…and they flew 

Guillaume Apollinaire 

Empowering every learner for the 21stcentury. How do we do that? Let me tell you how by first and foremost analyzing the keywords in this topic, ie ‘empowering’, ‘learner’ and ‘21st century’. 

The word empowering simply means “arming with what is needed.” Next, the question arises, needed by whom? By the learners. Who are the learners? Are they students or teachers or both? What do they actually need? Are we prepared to supply them that need? Let us now answer these questions. 
According to me, the learners are both the students and the teachers. What do these learners need? Primarily, a wider range of competencies to face the challenges of a globalized economy. As youngsters of today will be working in jobs that do not yet exist, the teachers have to teach them skills that are needed for the same. Creativity and the ability to continue to learn is what is the need of the hour. If we teach today, the way we were taught yesterday, we aren’t preparing students for today or tomorrow. As John Holt has said “ We should turn out people who love learning so much and learn so well that they will be able to learn whatever needs to be learned” In other words, life-long learning should be the mantra, the buzz-word for both sets of learners.

The learning process in teachers is related to the development of skills required by them to teach the learners of the 21stcentury. And the skills they acquire have to match with the emerging trends which are related to technical and technological advancement. The convergence of media and technology is changing the way we learn about the world and is challenging the very foundation of education. 

To the 21st century, learner technology is at the center of his learning and it is part of his mental frame-work and upbringing. It is no wonder then that we often hear statements like ‘something has happened to the quality of students’ ‘students no longer value learning like in the past’ made by the teachers. Is it because as teachers we believe (egotistically) that our students should learn in the same way as we did? If so, this belief is misplaced and erroneous. We need to prepare students for their future, not our past. 

The teachers of today must:- 

  1. Be participants in the learning process. 
  2. Be more of mentors. 
  3. Facilitate peer to peer learning.
  4. Provide students with greater access to knowledge. 
  5. Make students thinking persons and not parrots.

To do all this, the teachers’ role as a dispenser of facts and theories must change. They must abandon the notion that a lecture and reading assignment is enough to teach a lesson. They should leave behind the past traditions of teaching and learning and move to the future. The 20th-century education model of stressing on core subjects and assessing the learning should change. Teachers should become more techno-savvy, and move from the physical boundaries of the classroom to the outside world. Wireless networking, video conferencing, virtual discussions, blogs all help in enabling learning to happen, both inside and outside the classroom. The end of a period or class need not be the end of learning, but a transition to another learning space where students can spend more time with the course content. As Alvin Toffler says ‘Education must shift into the future tense’ but before we do this, the educators should shift to the future and futuristic requirement of learners. 

The futurist learning is what is termed as techno-savvy education. The text-book which up till now has been the primary medium of traditional academics has made way to an advanced technical education a very powerful tool of learning. Teacher centered paper and pencil schooling has become dejavu. 

21st-century learners are therefore described as ‘Net generation’ ‘Digital Natives’ Simple reading of text is no longer enough. They need the ability to interpret images and express in multimedia forms. “Technology is only technology to those who wereborn before it.” Computers are not technology but a part of the life of a 21st century learner. Being exposed to this set-up, they crave inter activity, visual imagery, parallel processing, inductive discovery. They want fast responses and have short attention span. Therefore teachers should equip them with thinking powers and skills in problem solving. Students have to be taught to think logically and reach their own conclusions. They should be able to find results and solutions for their problems independently. In other words every student must be a Self directed learner. 

The students of the 21st century have to have the following skills framework- 

(i) Life and career skills
(ii) Learning and Innovation Skills 
(iii) Information, media and technical skills 
(iv) Social & cultural skills. 

The partnership for 21st century skills has identified 7C’s as being important in the process of education. They are
a) Critical Thinking and problem solving.
b) Creativity and Innovation
c) Collaboration, Team-work, Leadership through group/ team projects. 
d) Computation and Technology
e) Communications and information Literacy. 
f) Cross- Cultural understanding. 
g) Career and Learning Self- Reliance. 
These above skills are to be developed in the 21st century learners. They have to be equipped with how to apply these skills in real-life situations. The course focus should be on applying classroom lessons to real life problems, thus allowing students to strengthen their learning. They have to be taught to love learning ‘to learn to learn form an early age.’ They have to learn to manage their learning with self-discipline. Know how to work autonomously yet collaboratively using all opportunities that come their way. Let us, as teachers try to teach them all this. 

Thirteen years into the millennium we cannot but agree with Alvin Toffler’s comment, “The illiterate of the 21stcentury will be those who cannot read and write but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.” 

So happy learning, unlearning, relearning….. learning, unlearning, relearning….. to all the learners of the 21st century. Let the cycle continue. 

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