Here are two things you need to know about me:
- I have been an educator for almost 17 years.
- I am a parent of two kids, both of whom belong to Gen Alpha.
As an educator, I was a witness of how the introduction of smartphones and wireless internet can be an unpleasant enemy in the battle of winning the student’s attention. At times, it appears that their attention span is most often than not identical to Twitter’s 140 characters, so I have to be more creative while giving them a lecture.
As a parent, observing from the point of view of someone who, from early childhood, studied for hours from books, I noticed that a short attention span is the biggest problem. But what also came to my attention was, that maybe unlike me, my kids are far more accustomed to acquiring knowledge by doing, swiping and experiencing, than by sitting still with their noses into a book. The root of the different approach to learning stems from the early difference in the approach to learning. Unlike myself, my kids were introduced to smart tools from the day they were born.
From K to 12 Education
In U.S. education, term K-12 refers to all primary and secondary education, from Kindergarten to the 12th Grade.
When they start their formal education, at the age of five, kids are in one classroom with the same teacher for the most of the day. After elementary school, kids proceed to junior high and then to high school. Through all of these ‘levels’ kids must not use their electronic devices. In other words, the school prohibits the use of that they are accustomed to, whether leisure or education are in question. If we were, to sum up, their perception of the educational system in just one word, the kids would say “BORING!!!”
Entertaining Education: What are we to learn from the Covid-19 pandemic
Let’s be honest, it’s not like you will have to sing and dance in order to keep them engaged (although it’s also not such a bad idea, after all), but the truth is that the touchscreen generation is craving a new approach to acquiring knowledge.
Due to the recent outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, my two children and I have found ourselves locked in our home. With universities, preschools and kindergartens closed, and the inability to go for a scroll in a park, the three of us have a little bit more time on our hands than we are normally used to. In order to put an end to the endless streaming of YouTube and Peppa Pig, I decided to come up with new ways to entertain my kids.
The Impromptu Test
Well, truth be told, I worry, that when my eldest kid starts school in a year’s time, he will have a problem with sitting still and carefully listening to his teacher.
As a university lecturer, I have prepared my first lesson well – the lecture about water.
At first, it was going well. We discussed the types of bodies of water, learned the difference between the freshwater and saltwater, and proceeded to talk about the challenges of keeping the water clean. I was having fun.
My son, on the other hand, was listening carefully for five minutes, and then he started building the Lego skyscraper.
Both, as a lecturer, and a mother, I naturally felt horrible. This little lecture test of mine just went to prove that my kid is not able to concentrate for more than 5 consecutive minutes.
Luckily as an educator, I am armed with attention capturing skills, and thanks to the years of practice on my university students, I did the next best thing – called for a quiz through an app.
Now, this is where the tables turned.
My 5-year-old stopped building the Lego masterpiece and came closer to TV. With his attention immediately captured by the quiz app, he was trying to answer all the questions and got the right answer to almost all of them. He was happy and proud of himself.
The Realisation: What Educational System Our Kids Really Need
This made me realize a few things. Even though he was playing with Lego, he did listen to my lecture, but the content and the method of presentation didn’t keep him engaged for a longer time. So he found a way to stay entertained while simultaneously listening to the lecture. The quiz part brought his full attention back to the class.
The last part of the lecture connected the knowledge with fun and competition. And it dawned on me, learning while completing a task or getting some bonus points is what engages the new generation, and it is up to us to adjust our teaching methods.
So, what does it say about the educational system we have right now? It’s not engaging our children. Or in other words, it’s boring indeed.
Generation that Thinks Digitally
If we want to prepare the educational system for the new and challenging Generation Alpha, then we need to get to know them. It seems that educators around the globe are still not aware of this new generation.
Generation Alpha includes any child born after 2010. Back in 2017, Generation Alpha students began enrolling in Kindergarten. This generation of children skillfully navigate digital tools and have a way of “thinking digitally” about how things connect and diverge. What they need is a “smart” approach in education, because the technology for them is not just a toy, but a way of living. It is important to realize that they use AI as a very common thing and have Siri and Alexa as their favorite babysitter. Very soon, we’ll witness that Gen Alpha kids are demanding when it comes to their expectations of K12.
First of all, they will need personalization
If we want to reach out to this generation, we need to know what their interests are, and ‘reshape’ curricula to meet those needs. As my little experiment showed, they will expect the purpose behind their learning and expect a connection between learning material and the out-of-the-class world. They, by no means, crave the didactic or teacher-directed experiences in classrooms.
Education should be experience-oriented
Just the other week, I was waiting to cross the road, and two first graders were waiting with me. What they were saying captured my attention. It turns out they wanted to test if everything they learned in school in one-week they can do by themself in just one day with the online tutorial from YouTube.
As educators, we need to motivate kids to go to school by introducing the real-life stories that will cover the teaching materials. We need to adapt our teaching methods and materials to the new generation.
Technology should be the most important tool in acquiring new knowledge
When my son was two, we were in the elevator and he started to read the word KLEEMAN (elevator production company), letter by letter. I was in shock, as I wasn’t aware that he knew the alphabet. I felt both proud and overwhelmed. So I asked him how he learned those letters. He said that he learned it from the Super Why! show he was watching on YouTube. Sometimes, when I don’t know the answer to one of the one thousand questions he asks every day, he suggests digging for an answer on Google.
Virtual school is the future of education
Since the day I read Ernest Cline’s masterpiece “Ready Player One”, I have been totally in love with virtual reality. I’m aware that school memories should be the best ones a person can recall. I remember the song I performed for my preschool performance, and how excited I was when I saw my parent’s proud faces and teary eyes. I was in elementary school when I realised I perform much better if I am studying a lecture on my own, as opposed to sitting among peers. Don’t get me wrong. I liked my friends from school. But if I could choose the way of my education style, I would always pick the homeschooling alternative.
Virtual school is the best alternative so far and it wasn’t even the option when I was a student. Keeping in mind that Gen Alpa kids are hungry for new knowledge and are fluent with the new technologies much sooner than we think, but don’t like the idea of a classical classroom form of education, the online school seems like a logical solution.
Ready or not, Gen Alpha Kids are coming to school!
The system of education remained the same for years and didn’t change with the introduction of the digital world. As schools, left and right, are trying to maintain the regular school classes and education during the Covid-19 situation, we are able to see how easily kids adapt to the online version of school. In the meantime, the first Alpha’s are already in primary school. In order to prepare them for the turbulent, flexible job market, we need to adapt learning methods, styles, tools.
To summarize, Generation Alpha will stay in education longer, acquiring new knowledge in order to respond to world great changes, such as using AI, self-driving vehicles, robots as a workforce. They will develop self-awareness about the reason for study, the learning process itself, and how to use education. Alphas will need a self-created curriculum which would help them to gain knowledge for the sake of addressing the challenges faced by a complex, global society. The current system of education is following the same standard curriculum for different students, all assessed at the same time with the limited use of technology.
The new educational system needs to embrace diversity with different approaches to learning. Technology will be a source of knowledge and, with the help of the innovative application, tool for the implementation of new learning methods. And remember, this is a generation that learns by doing.
This article is part of our series on Generation Alpha
We seek to provide answers to your most pressing questions about keeping your kids safe online, introducing them to the digital world, and helping them be their authentic selves online.
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