Kids in today’s classrooms with their BlackBerrys, iPods, iPhones, thousands of apps, Google and Wikipedia, Facebook, Twitter, GPS maps and laptop windows on the world are making a new kind of demand on public education and its teachers.
“Digital” has always been in these kids’ cultural DNA. They’ve likely never written in cursive, their cellphones tell them the time and are their social lifelines. They can organize a flash mob in two minutes and anything bizarre that happens in a classroom will be on YouTube the same day. Teaching this group in an 80-square-metre classroom is not getting any easier.
Today’s kids are awash in a computerized technology that does not distinguish between information and knowledge. So it will be up to their teachers to help them distinguish gold from dross. This raises the question as to how the next cohort of teachers are being prepared to meet this challenge, and it makes a recent Simon Fraser University report more interesting.
Authored by the Task Force on Teacher Education for the 21st Century (TEF21), the SFU report is directed at creating an updated vision for teacher education in B.C.
“The challenge for planners and policy-makers,” say the authors, “is to move their thinking beyond immediate issues and current realities; anticipate change and look around the corner … and instead to forecast what learning portals and school structures might look like in the future; predict what kinds of teachers and teaching repertoires will be required for these new school organizations and portals; imagine and design innovative and informed practices for recruiting, selecting and preparing teachers.”
The report cannot be easily summarized, but suggests that teacher education, along with the job itself, will need to become more sophisticated and more demanding.
While task force report is cautious in its predictions, it does identify some education trends.
• Achievement levels need to increase because students need more sophisticated understandings and skills to deal successfully with citizenship and employment.
• Technology use is increasing at all grade levels, both in school and at home.
• Not only can technology enhance current pedagogy, it can also create new possibilities for learning.
• Technology use may change teachers’ work and the structure of school.
According to the Conference Board of Canada, in a paper entitled Employability Skills 2000+, 21st-century skills are going to be needed through a project-based curriculum that is interdisciplinary and integrated and will include economic survival skills such as those advocated by Tony Wagner in his widely read book, The Global Achievement Gap.
Such a curriculum becomes the vehicle for the next generation of teachers to help kids develop critical thinking and problem-solving, agility and adaptability, initiative and entrepreneurialism, effective oral and written communication, access and analysis of information, and curiosity and imagination.
All of which makes teaching an increasingly challenging job and, problematically here in B.C., it is getting tougher for teacher-training institutions to attract the best of the best — neither jobs nor money await successful graduation.
In Finland, where kids routinely top international assessments, the top 10 per cent of university grads are attracted into teaching. If the SFU report is correct in predicting that teacher training must become more demanding to keep up with the expectations and learning styles of today’s kids, teacher advocates might have a point in suggesting that to attract the best and brightest, some rethinking is overdue about the values our society places on the education of our kids and its expectations of our teachers.
Geoff Johnson is a retired superintendent of schools.