Is Internet Overpowering the Education System?
Discover the unintended consequences for our next generation
As I look around, the world appears to be moving along perfectly — a healthy economy, job growth and the longest bull market in history. Nothing needs to be changed. If we keep this status quo, everything will be alright. What can go wrong?
The Internet has existed for a long time but it really only began to take off in the 1990’s. During this time, success was defined with these milestones in this order: get good grades, go to university, get a good job, work hard, save money for a house, get married, have kids, and voila, success for life!
So much has changed since then.
We were conditioned to believe these are the critical steps of success, success through the eyes of the world. Let’s bring ourselves to the present. How has this changed?
Behavioural Changes — The Onset
The Generation Z (born between 1998 to 2015) is the first generation to be exposed to the digital economy as a child. What is so remarkable about this age group is that the latter half are born when smartphones began their rise in popularity and power. The significance of this innovation is not so much the utility of the phone itself, but rather the behavioural changes it instills in this young generation as they begin to make their connections with the world. We did not understand the impact then but as time passes, people of all ages have grown attached to smartphones. When children have questions, rather than turning to parents, Google becomes their digital book of answers. Hence Google is a friend as well as a parent. No wonder parents feel they are at war fighting for their children’s attention. We handed the role of parenting to the Internet on a silver platter.
Power is shifting away from parents, teachers and other role models. Students find the education system slow in pace and approach. As Barack Obama pointed out in his conversation with The Economics Club of Canada last month, the current education system was built during the Industrial Age.
Change is imminent.
Behavioural Changes — Next Phase
I am not trying to label the Internet as evil — there are always two sides to everything. The Internet is a revolution, where we can enjoy being connected even if physically we are far away. The Internet enabled me to write this article today. If it wasn’t for social media, I would never have had the opportunity to engage an audience larger than my own family circle! Without the Internet, we would not be able to have such an enormous wealth of knowledge in one place. However, we weren’t told how the Internet can shape our thinking and behaviour, especially children during their formative years. At this stage, their brains are blank sheets of paper absorbing everything around them.
What the Internet has taught us over the years is the fact that we become robotic to it, and we are consumed by it. What started as an exchange of information quickly evolved into a behemoth of an online popularity contest, where immediate feedback is vital to digital existence. This is an endless digital loop, forming digital connections at the expense of real physical connection, and ultimately taking time away from self-reflection, attention and human connections. Truth and lies are blurred and become indistinguishable.
Behavioural Changes and Education
I, along with another technology enthusiast, recently conducted a survey on understanding the knowledge gap in technology within our current workforce.
Out of 34 respondents, 71.90% AGREED to this statement:
“Current teaching environment is NOT aligned with the pace of technology”.
The signs are already here. Increasingly children are paying less attention in school and more to their online activities after school — a space cadet by day and an owl by night. By the time these children reach teenage years, what can we do to keep them on track, at a time when they simultaneously seek independence and become more vulnerable to temptations?
The education system is slow to respond to changing needs. Just like disruptions in other traditional industries, in order to find a way to cope, we must find a different path. The major difference is the education sector is comprised of young children who are not capable of making decisions for themselves, whereas other industries are better equipped for autonomy. The foundation we lay out for the next generation must serve the purpose of providing a critical path to survival and ultimately a benefit to society.
At every level of the education system, there is uncertainty brewing. It appears educators are up against the traditional institution. Is technology the true disruptor of education? Is online learning the opposition?
I can draw a parallel between what is happening to the education system and a company such as Uber. The introduction of Uber disrupted the taxi industry. However, is Uber’s business model the ultimate path to success for the ride hailing industry? The answer will be different depending on which country you live in.
I am desperately trying to make sense of the current environment and I sense a great level of uncertainty and urgency before us. Even though we don’t have a crystal ball to see the future, we can learn to control how we react to it and prepare for it.
What are the alternatives? How can the education system evolve? Changes don’t happen overnight. Resistance to change, complacency, and aversion to risk are all the obstacles. We need to understand the unintended consequences impacting the learning process in the digital age, rather than labelling technology being the sole cause for disruption.
It will be tough to market the job prospect of a teacher to an undergraduate student where the future is dim. Teachers will need more autonomy to design teaching materials, they will need to come up with methods to best engage children rather than focus on the outdated curriculum.
Traditional industries will always play catch-up with technology. However, it is the willingness to change that matters. Small steps can make a huge difference. We have to start grading students not just on the results of a test or homework, but to create a whole new agenda with the students’ input. We can come up with these changes ourselves through our everyday observations. This does not spell the end for teachers, rather, it provides an opportunity for students pursuing teaching as a career to look in the rear view mirror and find gaps in the current system.
We need to look inside-out, not outside-in.
A good place to start will be to review the requirements from employers for entrance positions. What they look for in candidates will be an important indicator for what is needed in the current working environment. Using Artificial Intelligence, we can compile data from employers and create datasets of the most common skill sets. This will become a starting point in creating a new digital age school curriculum, evolving around employers’ needs.
With a focus on relevant educational tools and a constant evaluation of current teaching methods, we can transform the education system, engage students and ignite what is missing in the workplace. Most of all, working together as a unit will recreate our connections to humanity.
When there is a will, there is a way.