Do you know your students… really?

Shamim Suryavanshi

As a teacher you have been investing time in building a rapport with your students. You took pride in claiming that you knew the pulse of your class. But these days something seems to be amiss. In the middle of your ‘most interesting lesson’ you may find your best student with her head bent down discreetly answering a whatsapp message on her mobile. Or you may find that the individual research projects that you gave your class are all identical. They were all print versions of Wikipedia. Much against your own wish you find yourself muttering the words, ‘When we were your age….’ You are at your wit’s end. Why is our present generation of students behaving the way they do?

The generation gap!
By definition generations are cohorts of people who were born within a certain date range. They share a general cultural experience of the world. Until recently, generations were differentiated by periods of about 20-25 years. Today, the perceptions, skills and thinking style of the present generation of students is different from even the youngest teacher in any school. That is a difference of about 10 years or so. Failure to see this may lead to classrooms turning into battle grounds with the war cry of, “Generation Gap!”

Hoo r de? Y r de diff frm u?
Our learners today have a language of their own. They belong to what is globally known as Generation Z or Gen Z or Digital natives. These are children born from around 2000 to now. According to a study conducted by Ericson Consumer Lab India across 16 cities in India, children between 9-15 years spend roughly seven hours daily with gadgets – mobile phones, watching TV and using gaming consoles. Thus, the pervasive use of technology is likely the most obvious characteristics of Gen Z. However, aren’t we teachers tech savvy too. But how much?

You vs They
In our schools today we can observe interactions between three recent generations.

Generation X
Born between 1961-1980
The senior teachers • Faced the digital revolution
• Resisted the change
• Started using digital technologies
• Went on-line
• As children were mostly shaped by TV, video and video games
Generation Y or Millennials Born between 1980-1995 The teachers • Came of age during the digital revolution
• Embraced the digital revolution
• Were shaped by PC, computer games, and WEB
• Went on line
Generation Z Born after 2000 Present school going population • Were born in a digital world
• Cannot live without digital technology
• Were born on-line

Researchers observe that the brains of Gen Z are rewired by the internet – answers to questions come from Google and Youtube. They lack critical thinking skills to evaluate sources. Their communication takes place mostly on Facebook and Whatsapp.

They like short messages. Emails bore them.They lack face to face communication skills.Gen Z really relies on its network of relationships and believes that their peers are more influential in their learning. They are undergoing pains of broken relationships, relationships with friends they have never met!

Gen Z lives in the virtual connected world. They try to get everything to the place they live. They are prone to a sedentary lifestyle and related health issues.

They have greater access to the adult world than was available to their parents’ generation, so much so that some observers gloomily predict the ‘death of childhood’ as young people of this generation are hurried through life’s most important stages.

But be rest assured, it is not the end of society. Researchers also point out the positive aspects of this information revolution age.

Being connected, Gen Z is hugely concerned with socio-political issues locally and globally. They are aware that they live in a pluralistic society and tend to embrace diversity.

Thanks to all the games online, this generation is fast becoming the most successful problem solving generation.

Gen Z love to contribute their knowledge and opinions online. They like to engage in the co-construction of knowledge rather than be mere recipients of communication.

The new-age teacher
While we may observe all or only few of the traits in the classrooms we enter, there is absolutely no denying the fact the waves of the change are going to hit us sooner or later. We will have to adopt our teaching to the evolution in our learners.

The irony of the knowledge age is that we have never before needed better skilled and well- supported teachers. We may see youngsters all around us believing that they are no less than a micro-celebrity. But we also need to see that Gen Z is constantly living anxious lives waiting for someone to like their comments, postings or display pictures. These are youngsters who may still not have access to internet at home but run to the cybercafé and look at the guy there as their saviour for all their school projects.

Gen Z may act defiant and in charge but they are still children and adolescents with eternal needs to be loved, to be guided and to belong, to express themselves, to play, to learn values, to make sense of experiences and to grow in wonder – all essential requirements of human beings on the road to maturity. It is time that we ‘reconnect’ with our students and see their world the way they do!

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The author has over 14 years of experience working as a teacher, teacher educator and school academic advisor. She has served in government, non- government and private institutions. She now offers her services in the field of education as a freelancer. She can be reached at shamim.suryavanshi@gmail.com.