A few years ago, one of my colleagues who had been teaching in the 1980s said, “These kids today are different from the ones I taught when I started my career.” He was right. I get it. I’m a Baby Boomer, one of those guys who grew up in the 1960s and is now deep into the maze of middle age. I, too, have seen the changes in today’s kids.
Different interests. Different brains. A different world and time.
They are Generation Z, the children of Millennials, and they were born after 2000 and are products of this century. They will be the first generation to grow up with touch screens dominating their lives. They swipe, game, surf, text, snap pictures, post video on multiple sites, and have their world’s information and entertainment options at their fingertips.
What will they see in their lifetime? The life expectancy for kids born today is expected to be a little over 100 years—and some researchers estimate a third of them could live for150 years. IBM’s Big Data Study released in 2012 predicted a future when the Internet will be “fully built out” and knowledge will be doubling every 12 hours—in other words the world’s information will double during the time a kid gets out of bed, goes to school, does an after-school activity, and then comes home for dinner. And it will double again by the time the young person gets out of bed the next morning.
And consider this: a teacher who enters the profession in 2016 and plans to teach for 35 years will still be practicing his or her craft—in 2051. With the rapid growth in knowledge and societal change, can we imagine what teaching will be like then?
All of this leads to some hard questions for the world’s educators:
- What does it mean to be educated now and in the future?
- How should schools look and function today and in the decades ahead?
- What can educators do NOW to thrive in this era of constant, non-ending disruption?
Answers to these questions will be hard to find, but educators can begin by acknowledging the “old days” are gone—and they’re never coming back. Students will continue to evolve in how they learn, and educators must constantly continue their own evolution to keep up. But this doesn’t have to be scary; there are many wonderful changes taking place and the future will be incredible—and educators can do their part to shape it.
Ideas from What’s in Your Space? 5 Steps for Better Schools and Classrooms by Dwight Carter, Gary Sebach, and Mark White, to be published by Corwin in March 2016.