The digital age is changing the world at an accelerated speed. The question is: Are teachers concerned about understanding the rapid changes being brought about by technology? Or is digital technology disrupting their comfort zone and the business of teaching?
Although I see the accelerated changes and the disruption as exciting, it requires teachers to adopt and adapt to new technologies if they are to survive in the classroom.
Technology has revolutionised many industries — and teachers, as agents of change, need to venture into a different mode of teaching.
New ways of delivering information should be of concern to teachers, because they are no longer the major source of knowledge who control and direct the cognitive development of pupils. Technology should make life easier for teachers and pupils by making information readily available.
Schools and teachers will continue to have to operate on a different platform because of the constant development of technology. The educational system is changing — and, if it has not done so, it should. Society in general and the pupils we teach have changed, which means the role of teachers needs to change.
In addition, we see that the institutions of higher learning have changed and have introduced and are accelerating online learning.
But we might not be aware of, or maybe we are ignoring, the fact that the school system is changing. Technology is advancing at such a speed that, if we ignore the changes taking place and fail to improve our school curriculums, we will continue to produce unsatisfactory results.
To improve the quality of our teachers and learning, online learning is ideal. A normal classroom is composed of diverse individuals, each with their unique intelligence, to a greater or lesser extent. Research informs us that online teaching can accommodate the different levels of intelligence found in a classroom.
For example, a teacher, by interacting with each pupil in online discussion boards and by gauging how they respond to different activities, can learn to know and understand each of the pupils better.
There is no doubt that, in online teaching, pupils interact to a greater extent with the learning material on their own before seeking a teacher’s assistance. They have a better opportunity to respond to and reflect on a teacher’s questions and assignments than they do currently with homework. Online teaching is accessible, convenient and flexible. Going online will reduce the multifaceted challenges teachers experience in our classrooms today.
Are teachers ready for this disruption?
They need to understand that disruptions are healthy sometimes. It only requires people to look at teaching and the work they do differently. This kind of disruption requires people who are ready to learn and a government that is willing to provide support, platforms and the opportunity to learn.
The challenge is that, with the use of technology, the role of the teacher must change. This is multifaceted and may entail social and behavioural changes, and changes to the strategies applied in teaching and learning.
This huge task demands that teachers and prospective teachers must prepare themselves to use technology in the classroom. As much as they need to learn new skills, they also need to unlearn and relearn, otherwise they will be regarded as illiterate.
Alvin Toffler argued back in 1970 in his book Future Shock that the illiterates of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn. This does not mean reading and writing is not important but learning new ways of teaching and learning are equally important. Thus, teachers, irrespective of their age, their knowledge and their qualifications, have the task of focusing on the three elements identified by Toffler in order to prepare the future generation.
Furthermore, Klaus Schwab, the founder and executive chairperson of the World Economic Forum, spoke of the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) in 2016, explaining what it means and how to respond to
its challenges. He is convinced that the way we live, work and relate to one another is changing fundamentally.
Teachers have a huge responsibility to prepare the present and future generations to thrive in a world that is constantly transforming. Avi Ganon, the chief executive of education and vocational training non-governmental organisation World ORT, writes that, in the current environment, the educational tools, curriculums and teaching techniques that have been followed for decades may no longer be relevant or even fit for purpose.
Curriculum specialists and the government need to revisit and review curriculums constantly because future generations need to understand the various technologies and how they will disrupt the job market. Teachers are not only responsible for providing pupils with knowledge and understanding but must also empower them with the skills to become critical thinkers, so that they can make the right decisions when choosing careers that will enable them to thrive in the world of work.
Research informs us that education is now about developing multiple intelligences and this demands a holistic education system committed to enabling pupils to achieve their full potential. The learning environment in the 21st century needs to encompass a multiplicity of places, ideas and people; it must be technologically driven and often exist in a virtual rather than a physical space.
The responsibility for creating such an environment lies with the teacher. This means teacher education cannot be exonerated for failing to skill and train teachers for the 21st century. Woon-Chia Liu and Ee-Ling Low, the editors of Teacher Education in the 21st Century: Singapore’s Evolution and Innovation, advocate that teacher education should develop teachers who are thoughtful, reflecting and inquiring.
The teacher of the future needs a new set of skills and competencies to manage and implement new technologies. Using technology, especially in the classroom, creates a world of new discoveries and exploration. This means teachers need to assume new roles that allow them to accommodate the knowledge of the new world.
Bryan Edward Penprase, dean of faculty at Soka University of America’s undergraduate programme, writes that the reskilling of practising teachers has become critical and teacher education should make sure all programmes afford student teachers the opportunity to learn the skills of teaching.
But he refers to shifting the focus to “active learning pedagogies that place a premium on collaboration within diverse teams in a project-based and peer-learning environment”.
Initial teacher training programmes should be structured to deal with the skills and competences required by the 21st-century teacher and prepare them for 4IR to meet the needs and demands of future generations. The curriculum should connect formal learning and the world of work beyond the classroom.
Dr Motladi Angeline Setlhako is the manager of the teaching practice unit in the College of Education at Unisa and is a member of the South African Monitoring and Evaluation Association.