BANGKOK - Technology expert and educator, Ian Jukes pointed out the need for Thailand to develop a new learning model that serves the needs of the emerging digital generation during his speech at TK Forum 2014, which was held on June 19 at the Centara Grand @ CentralWorld, Bangkok, Thailand.
Held annually by TK park, TK Forum 2014 brought together thinkers, scholars and opinion leaders from Thailand and overseas to share their views on new learning models that are important to the development of Thailand’s digital generation. This year’s theme was “Learning in the Digital Era”.
During his presentation titled “Understanding the Digital Generation: Strategies for Teaching Digital Learners in Today's Classrooms”, Jukes highlighted the rise of digital children, their demands for progressive schooling and the social and economic implications of the digital era.
Jukes is the executive director of InfoSavvy Group and the author of the recent books such as "Teaching the Digital Generation", "Literacy Is Not Enough" and "Living on the Future Edge".
During the forum, Jukes asserted that digital children are fundamentally different from previous generations in the way they access, absorb, interpret, process and use information and the way they view, interact and communicate in and with the modern world.
The digital generation is made up of the “digital immigrants” and “digital natives”. The former are those who were born before the digital age and who have lived through the age and developed certain digital skills. The latter are digital children who were born into the digital age and are used to digital devices right from a very young age.
It’s the digital natives that education ministers around the world need to pay attention to because they defy the traditional learning platform in favor of a new digital learning model that serves their personal and lifestyle needs.
“Since digital children are neurologically wired differently than the older generation, they not only see, but they also interact with the world in a very different way than we do. Kids who are four or five years apart are already neurologically different. The digital experiences of the digital generation who are 30 to 35 years old are fairly limited. Their level of being a digital generation is different than young people who were born into it. It’s their native language.
“You and I are just foreigners and immigrants. We come from a place where digital devices didn’t exist. For these kids, these devices have always been there, internalized and taken into their lives. It’s a big challenge for education,” said Jukes.
Digital learners have unique characteristics, added Jukes. They are visual learners and social beings who always want a digital lifestyle at home and school as well as immediate gratification and rewards. Most importantly, they will not stand the traditional model of teaching.
While lamenting its government’s recently scrapped One Tablet Per Child policy, Jukes said Thailand could have performed better when it comes to efficient digital education. He regards Finland as the world’s best model for digital education. In Asia, Singapore remains the best digital learning model even though he’s quite skeptical about its success.
“Singapore is probably the one. Although they have technologically advanced classrooms and fiber-optic internet everywhere, they spend billions of dollars to make students creative. But they are not: teachers are still standing in front of the room and students sitting in the back and they never ask questions.
“If I’m looking for model that works, I’m looking for provinces, or states, individual communities, more than I can say there’s a universal model. The most highly regarded education system in the world these days is Finland. They are putting the fiber optic network into every corner because THAT is the new highway,” he said.
While seen as key to successful digital education, the digital devices should not be allowed to drive learning.
Jukes points to Thailand’s shoddy tablet policy to illustrate the importance of “headware” over “hardware”. A well-designed curriculum is more important than digital devices in developing “headware”, or key mental skills of the future such as critical thinking, problem solving and decision making.
“In order to teach kids to be 21st-century thinkers, what you need to do is to change the curriculum so that the curriculum is focusing more on creative thinking and problem solving. You want to teach higher-order thinking skills, rather than the traditional ones. In a lot of places including the US and Canada, technology drives learning when it should be the other way around.
“Learning has to define technology. This isn’t about teaching kids power point lessons. This is about teaching kids to be more effective communicators. This isn’t about teaching kids Microsoft Word. But it’s about teaching them to be able to write, be well in a written exam, able to calculate, speak. These skills are needed. It comes down to how align our technology intentions to our learning intentions,” he said.
These key skills are of paramount importance in the future and jobs in the future require the headware more than anything else, he stresses.
“In the last two years in China, 70,000 factories have been closed because they have been automated. Workers have been replaced by machines whether in low-, or high-income countries. The problem is that the hardware that is state of the art today will be gone tomorrow,” he said.
Jukes advocates three levels of technology-based learning: literacy-based, integrated (or augmented) and transformative. At the literacy level, the teacher teaches the kids the basics of digital tools such as computer programming. With the integrated technology approach, kids are taught to identify pieces of hardware, or software that are used to augment what the teacher is already doing in the classroom. At the transformative level, the teacher uses technology to do things that he can’t do without one.
“But the focus must always be on critical thinking and problem solving. Learning about technology is just a byproduct. It’s the thinking skill that’s most important,” he said.
Digital children need a new set of skills like information fluency (“ability to interpret information in all forms and separate good from bad information”), creativity (“a mental process to define, discover, dream, design and deliver”) and media fluency (“to be able to look at a website and a video and figure out how to separate the medium from the message”) and global awareness (“to be aware globally and act globally”).
“Kids need to be able to look at information and find out what’s true, what’s not, and apply that information to solve real-world problems. Today citizens need to be aware of other cultures around the world, as everything is interconnected,” he said.