THERE is enough research to show that human beings have a natural curiosity to learn right from the start, and this desire to learn, explore and understand stays with them throughout their lives. That should be good news for teachers. For kindergarten teachers it means their job is twofold: have a solid grip on what you want to teach and find ways of engaging students in the learning process. However, the reality is not so simple. Unfortunately, traditional formal education has always laid more emphasis on content-based knowledge. We know what to teach but not how the students will learn it.
The gap persists and grows as students progress through grade levels. The ‘gap’ can be broadly defined as a skills gap. What is the role of the teacher in helping students with the skills to learn? What is the missing piece in this mystery?
The building blocks of learning that encourage creativity and curiosity in the foundation years need our focused attention. When we talk about 21st century skills, learner adaptability, and developing motivation to become successful learners, we have to look closely at what we can do to develop the skills they need on this journey.
Global skills, as we call them now, require a broad framework of consistent tools that can be used at every stage in every classroom. The skills we develop in our students are the precursor to knowledge, not the other way around. If our students don’t have the skills to process the content they are being fed, will they be able to comprehend and retain it?
How adaptable to change are we as educators?
When we look closely at the gap between skills and knowledge, the role of the 21st century teacher becomes obvious — students require communicative and collaborative classes for them to learn how to extract information, draw meaning from it and produce a personal response. Without the necessary skills to accompany content, no amount of reinforcement will help them do well in examinations or learn the global skills required to serve them in avenues other than academics.
Students are often willing and eager to try out new things. How adaptable to change are we as educators? There is much to be gained from research on global skills, the benefits and the process. Unfortunately, in recent months, I have been part of conversations where ‘global skills’ have been described as a ‘buzzword’ and efforts to incorporate them in some schools demeaned as the ‘rat race towards global skills’. Rather than a buzz phrase or a race, global skills have become more of a necessity than ever before. If our children have any hope of thriving and growing as part of a team or network, they would need to learn to collaborate, to think critically and work digitally, generate ideas creatively and use problem-solving strategies to implement them.
Crisis management, conflict resolution and emotional wellbeing will all be paramount in an increasingly fast-changing and demanding work environment. Far from being buzzwords, they will be skills that perhaps robots and artificial intelligence can never hope to replicate. Those who resist the change tend to suffer from frustration arising out of a lack of ability to understand the concept in depth and detail. And the things we don’t understand inevitably seem harder than they are.
The reverse is the psychological phenomena that makes people overestimate their competence at something they don’t truly understand. The so-called ‘Dunning-Kruger effect’ creates a bias against something people might not be aware that they don’t know enough of and make judgements based on limited understanding.
Acceptance of new models of teaching and learning don’t require special resources. Mostly, it’s about awareness, research and initiative. In the context of individual classrooms, this may imply a close look at the gap between skills being taught and those demanded at the level of schools, community and society. Are we preparing students for a world that demands a positive attitude, emotional management and teamwork? What implementation strategies can be put in place to develop these skills early on in our education trajectory?
Using content in every subject, teachers could start with basic activities such as providing plenty of opportunities for guided and free collaboration and communication among students. Instead of expecting teachers to provide answers, students would benefit from engaging with course material to discuss and come up with answers together. Many teachers hesitate to cede that control in class but, if one looks at the bigger picture, it actually makes the teacher’s task easier and helps students develop study skills. The constructive noise that follows is a manifestation of the students’ agency, empowerment and ability to own their learning.
The writer is working as senior manager, Professional Development, at Oxford University Press, Pakistan.
Published in Dawn, January 9th, 2022