India, unlike several other nations of the west, has entered into the 21st century with a lot of promise and possibilities. In the midst of increasingly flattening world, change is sweeping the nation from all sides.  To assess the appropriate response towards these times, it is critical to understand beforehand what these changes are and thereafter what are their implications. Probably only then can we prepare to face them with clarity and conviction.

With ‘Right to Education’ getting included as a Fundamental Right at the outset of this century, there is an ocean of responsibility in front of educators. There may be several important things which might be influencing our kids, but few of these aspects of this 21st century are to be noted carefully to understand what they imply for schools.

Few trends that dominate our times:

1.      The juggernaut of Western culture

Trend:  In the age of globalization where most of the attractions are driving us towards the western way of living, celebrating, communicating and making our decisions, what would drive one child to find out what lies at the ancient roots of our marvelous country.

Implications:  We as a society have not really been successful in taking the ancient thoughts of this country to a level whereby they become part of our everyday lives. Only when the child is firmly rooted in the nation’s rich ethos can he/she understand the direction of the western winds. Schools can play a huge role and in helping the child to draw the best from the East and the West rather than to get swayed in one direction.

2.      The increasing need for collaboration

Trend: People in this age would not be working in isolated cubicles. They would be collaborating with other employees from different nations and would be expected to think together with them.   Compartmentalization of roles is passé.  People will rise above the narrow definitions of identity that marked society in the past.

Implication: Schools have been traditionally designed around individual excellence which is the smalles unit of ensuring and monitoring development but they would also need to prepare students to embrace diversity, collaborative learning, working and solving problems harmoniously.

3.      Shift of power from access to information to ability to handle information

Trend: With the advent of information age, access to content is no more the differentiator. As technology becomes more and more pervasive, students would be able to access the best of the literature available in any part of the world and use it to develop their understanding.

Implication: The teachers of this century would need to help students seek information, understand its relevance, apply it and also develop the ability to create knowledge. Teachers who only transfer information from the text book to the child out there by virtue of their position of authority are likely to lose relevance.

4.      Changing Communication methods

Trend: Some of the new age communication tools which are proliferating are completely in contradiction to what it takes to express well with due contemplation. Tools like SMSes, Twitter and Facebook that teachers got familiar with after probably they reached a level of matured thought are methods which children are using from a very early stage. One of the articles in New York Times recently questioned whether they are enemies of contemplation since these are huge distractions even for adults.

Implication:   Students need to be taught the value of thinking well and expressing with richness. A couple of lines here and a few words there don’t necessarily allow us to be understood well or to take our thoughts to wide audience. Teachers would need to encourage children the virtue and skill of expressing their thoughts in detail and the extremely significant role that communication plays at every level of our existence.

The wisdom to choose one’s style of communication and the medium would not come naturally unless it is taught with care over a period of time.

5. Plethora of distractions

Trend: From the ancient age of Guru-kula with all its philosophy and richness, India has now entered the age of hyper consumerism- irrespective of whether we like it or not. Children today are living in a world of myriad distractions. Probably the distractions were never more. When adults are not able to resist the temptation of changing cars, mobile phones, laptops within a short span, how can we expect children who are perhaps in the middle of the most diverse set of signals or distractions like gizmos, video games, food stuff, toys, apparels etc to decide with a clear mind.

Implications: How many times have we seen kids diving into their cell phone and cacooning themselves from the world around them? Children would need a lot of help to understand what really matters in life. How to value healthy friendships, value the quiet silence of nature, working with attention, reading a book with a thoughtful mind, playing with friends and also at times playing computer based games for that matter. Advertisements will keep on enticing them to buy more and more. Children are getting tested both outside as well as within the classrooms. It would take a lot of empathy on the part of the teachers to realize what is going on in their minds and help them seek clarity.

Thus as we progress confidently in this century, we have traded prosperity for a lot of conditions which are fraught with uncertainty and risks. Very few organizations would ever try to own the responsibility of understanding the long term social implications of this change.

Thus in this new age, the teachers and parents would have to jointly collaborate to understand how the mind of the child is getting shaped and how is this learner really learning along the way. If left to himself or herself, there is doubt if a child would really be able to maneuver through this labyrinth of complexities with ease.