Learning in the 21st century

Happy teens studying together in a group
Photo: © Dotshock / 123RF Stock Photo

We are in the 21st century. Just saying that brings a kind of mystique and excitement even today, as it did, when we made the great leap from the 20th century into this one — a feeling of exhilaration as though we have crossed some barrier into a ‘brighter age’.

This ‘brighter age’ has a lot of expectations associated with it, dreams for the future, hopes for success — both individual, national and global. Today, the main factor of production is ‘knowledge’, the main enabler is ‘technology’; information is freely available via the internet. This has brought with it great unpredictability in terms of our future as well because the nature of jobs is rapidly changing with the use of technology, and if one skill is useful today, it may no longer be useful tomorrow.

Given these rapid changes, the focus on technology, and most importantly knowledge, only one thing to ensure that we are not left behind is the ability to learn.

Learning has always been a part of our lives, since the dawn of humanity — we can learn anytime, anywhere, whether we go to school or not! However, it is only since the last 200 years or so that we have started going to ‘school’ in order ‘to learn’. This suggests two things — that learning cannot happen anywhere other than school, and that only what is covered in school is to be learnt. We know that this is not true. However, it makes what happens in school extremely important, because we spend a good six hours of our day there!

Kaavya loved school when she was in Class 1. Teachers used to make them draw, paint, write, make things, sing songs, dance… but now, it is all about sitting and listening to the teacher, writing and cramming from the textbook, and loads of homework. So, what can be done to make Kaavya more engaged?

Converting Information or Content into Knowledge
A lot of the class time involves working with information or content — either from the textbook, or from notes. Moreover, we are required to reproduce the words of the textbook during exams. When learners do not engage with the subject matter, it is easily forgotten.

Engaging with subject matter only occurs when learners are active. The first thing is to relate what we learn to our lives, to what is happening in the real world, and to other subjects. For example, learning about equations in Math should be related to real world situations such as when a vendor weighing vegetables stops adding vegetables when the scale balances. Another way is to encourage the famous ‘why’ question, as well as ‘how can I…’ and discuss the ways in which the information can be used, thereby converting it into knowledge.

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Nasreen Hashambhoy
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Nasreen Hashambhoy

Nasreen Hashambhoy is a Counsellor, Life Coach and a Facilitator of training programmes for schools and corporates. Through a combination of coaching, counselling and facilitation techniques based on cognitive science and positive psychology, she helps clients achieve their true potential. She is the author of the series Values In Action published by Better Yourself Books.