Are we preparing students for the 21st Century?


I HOPE you have learned something from last week’s article – something about how important philosophy can be for educators and other professionals too.
I found a YouTube video about a philosopher talking about how useful philosophy can be in many different fields and careers and it was interesting.
Experienced educators who want to do better in their profession have to tap into a bit of thinking and philosophy to better prepare their students for the paths ahead.
In this week’s article, we consider the question: Are we preparing our students and children for the 21st century?
Think about it. Some of the things used today were not used decades ago – mobile phones, email and social media, among others.
Also, there are careers that are now in demand and which never existed decades ago.
Such facts should cause us to seriously ask the question that I posed.
Visiting lecturers 
This theme has been on my mind for almost a year now.
And it was impressed better on my mind when a group of Australian lecturers from Canberra University came to the institution I was in to run a teachers’ in-service programme.
That question was posed in that programme: Are we preparing students for the 21st Century.
And with that they also ran through various pedagogical approaches (ways of teaching children) to get them to be engaged in learning.
I will get back to some of the topics covered in that programme.
For now, let me also get to an event related to this.
In 2014, I attended a mathematics conference at the University of Goroka. It was organised by the PNG Mathematical Society and the University of Goroka (UoG) and supported by different organisations and firms.
I took time out of my job in the newsroom and attended the conference for the whole week, since I have worked with mathematics and had helped students learning the subject at both the secondary and tertiary levels.
It was a pleasure listening to lecturers and researchers coming from all parts of the world as in America, France, Australia and Africa to present papers and approaches on how best to help students learn the subject and continue learning it at the university level.
I also took the time to sit with during lunch and ask some of the visiting scholars what actually get them interested in maths in the first place, and what approaches they think are the best to start the young ones off in the right way in this challenging subject.
(I asked them those questions because I have the view that many people who do not learn maths well because they do not approach it in the right way. I have shared my personal story about that too in past articles.)
If you have been following news on education in recent years, you would be aware that maths and maths lecturers are vital in the world and in this age of science and technology and business.
Without mathematics, you cannot produce engineers, scientists, medical doctors, computer scientists, business analysts and economists, among others.
No too long ago the United Kingdom was recruiting maths teachers from China and if you look for teaching jobs in New Zealand and Australia, there is always a demand for good mathematics teachers or lecturers.
Mathematics, whether applied or pure, is one field that many students do not take up in university studies and that is why we will continue to have shortage in have good mathematics graduates and teachers.
One of the sessions in the Goroka conference had us working in groups on different tasks.
One group was tasked to draw up a mathematics degree programme for students at UoG. (I was part of that group.)
The Goroka institution saw the need to have a BSc programme in maths in addition to their other degree programmes.
That in itself is a way forward for the nation because maths skills are vital.

Do tasks promote vital skills?
Now, let me switch to the in-service session which was run by the Canberra team.
At the conclusion of the in-service programme (which ran for a few days), we had to put something on paper to summarise what we learned.
My summary paper is the one in the picture.
I asked the question: Does my set assessment tasks promote:

  • Communication?
  • Collaboration?
  • Creativity?
  • Critical thinking?

Those are some important skills that we, as educators, should try to pass on to our students.
Are we teaching them to communicate better, preferably in English, in both written and oral modes?
And that is vital in language, business as well as science, among others.
Are we teaching students to work in groups, on projects, or assignments?
Team work is vital. Some of the best ideas and innovation came from teamwork not individual effort. Google, YouTube and WhatsApp were created by a team of professionals.
Are we teaching students to be creative – in their drawing, composition of stories, music composition, or even acting?
Creativity is vital for innovations.
Are we training our students to be critical thinkers, not accepting the status quo and proposing new ways of viewing and solving problems?
Those are important skills today.
Any successful firm in the western world look for such qualities of their future employees.

Work on a project
If you look at my summary in the diagram I drew, you will notice the bottom part has a possible project that students can complete as a group as part of their assessment.
That could be a project in any subject – English, business or even mathematics.
The different areas or criteria to be marked will include:

  • Content
  • Pictures
  • Language
  • Title and headings
  • Layout and organisation

As you can see, each area or criteria above will be assessed and given marks.
The skills that would enable them to complete the project would include content (research skills), pictures (photography/video recording skills), language (writing skills), title and headings (writing skills/art), layout and organisation (art/writing skills/design).
The finished work of the student can be in the form of a brochure or video. That would require students to use some advanced skills, skills that are valuable in the 21st Century.

New jobs on the horizon
Do you notice that today we have new jobs that are appearing which may require a mixture of skills – of which, some are old and some are completely new?
One professional that is now in demand is data scientist.
In the past that job was unheard of.
Today, businesses need data scientists to help them make sound business decisions.
Google, Facebook and Amazon need data scientists, who are professionals who have learned a fair deal or maths/statistics, some coding in a number of different computer languages (like Python and SQL) and know how to use database software (like access).
I have noticed too that in recent weeks two big local businesses in our nation were also looking for data scientists.
The question I had in mind was: Have we been training people to become data scientists?
If we are not doing that then we are not preparing students for the future.
And I have mentioned just one profession. There could be others that are now in demand or will be in a few years’ time.

What a guardian can do
The questions asked in this article is for all of us to think about the education of the young.
Are we really preparing them for the future?
As a guardian, you can do a lot even if the education system we have may not seem to teaching our children to be ready for this century.
Enroll them to do courses with private institutions or short courses to develop skills that they may not be learning where they are.
Remember, the world is changing and there is a lot one can learn online as well.
Many overseas firms are also offering courses online. Universities are also making their lectures and lecture notes available for all to access.
I am sure that in the future some professionals will also offer short courses to help students learn advanced skills (like coding or working with databases), courses that they may not be learning where they are.
Remember, we must help our young ones prepare for the 21st century by doing that.
Next week: The education of Joseph.

  • Thomas Hukahu is a freelance writer.

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