The students of tomorrow



By Rikiichi Koizumi -

The growth of ICT such as the Internet has been accelerating the globalisation of societies in recent years. In cyberspace, there are no national, temporal or geographical borders. ‘Digital natives’, who were born at a time when the Internet was commonplace, live in two different societies: the ‘real society’ and the ‘virtual society’. Living in such an environment is perfectly normal and natural for them. However, for ‘digital immigrants’ like those of my generation, this two-tiered society is unfamiliar, which often makes it hard for us to understand younger people’s thoughts and behaviour.

It has been over twenty years since the Internet became accessible to society at large. In addition, we are going into an era in which digital natives are about to take their first steps into higher education. Most of the educators are digital immigrants, and the education system itself has been forced to go through significant changes. There are large gaps between learners and educators regarding the specific kinds of and amounts of knowledge to learn, preferred learning styles, and values.

Digital natives use ICT intuitively and with their senses. Mobile phones are a good example. They keep fiddling with this small device in their palms without thinking that it is a kind of computer. Quite a number of young people are good at using smart phones and the iPad but not so familiar with PCs. On the other hand, a lot of teachers are just getting used to managing PCs at the personal level and are just starting to think about how ICT can be utilised in education.

Although a variety of proposals in areas such as e-learning, multimedia content, and LMS have been made for using ICT in education, none of them have yet been implemented successfully. Considering the fact that the level of learners has changed dramatically and society has shifted more towards information and knowledge, the current educational methods need to be reviewed more thoroughly.

Under Japan’s present education system, students in the K-12 grades are expected to learn how to utilize information and ICT. They are expected to know how to use a computer and navigate through the Internet, have basic communication and presentation skills, and know about ethics in cyberspace, etc. However, we cannot say that students are acquiring adequate skills and ethics for the following reasons. Firstly, not all schools have the proper infrastructure such as PCs and high-speed Internet connections. Secondly, many teachers do not have the knowledge and skills required to teach students effectively. And lastly, there is very little time allocated in the classroom for ICT education, as many schools are inclined to focus more on the core subjects for the students’ academic advancement. In addition to the above three issues, there has been no collaboration among elementary, junior high and senior high schools to develop a seamless curriculum for ICT in the K-12 grades. Due to these realities, students are forced to start learning information and ICT utilisation skills in college.

In 2010, a government project called ‘Future School’ was launched in Japan. In this project, every student in a class will have a PC with an Internet connection via a wireless LAN, so that teachers can teach the class using an IWB or a visualizer. This is an initiative to change the present teaching and learning styles by enabling teachers and students to use ICT on a regular basis. The project involves experimental studies at ten elementary schools, eight junior high schools, and two special schools

In the beginning, while the teachers felt some resistance to introducing ICT, children showed a great interest in the new ‘toy’, creating an invisible gap between them. However, about one year on, children are now fully used to using PCs every day, and teachers handle the new tool well in their own way for their classes. One of the important things we found in this study is that teachers do not necessarily need to teach students in a non-interactive manner. Teachers can facilitate students to learn by themselves and help and teach each other whenever necessary. ICT has created a completely new learning environment that allows teachers and students to find and share information. Students can make new attempts to express themselves and deliver information by taking advantage of the flexibility of digital data. Teachers and students can work collaboratively, learn by using the new communication tools, and study at their own pace.  Such forward-looking projects have already been started in several Asia Pacific countries, such as Singapore and Korea. There are high hopes that these projects will help in the development of a new education system in Japan.

A new subject called ‘Joho (Information Study)’ was introduced to the Japanese high school curriculum nine years ago. The subject includes not only how to use computers and the Internet, but also aims to teach students how to use information to express their own ideas, how to deliver information, how to solve problems, and for them to be aware of information ethics. At first, the outcomes of this new subject went against universities’ expectations. However, high schools are producing better results, and more students are entering universities with basic ICT literacy. For several years, the number of students who can utilise ICT has been significantly increasing compared to past years.

The very fact that teachers conduct their classes by using ICT (even though the class is not about ICT) has had a large impact on students’ ICT literacy. The reason is clear. Students learn from what teachers do in the classroom. If a teacher is using ICT in the classroom, students will imitate the teacher and learn how to use these convenient tools naturally. Then when these students become teachers themselves, it is more likely that they will use ICT in the class, which would create even more ICT literate students. Though it might take time to see the effects of such an approach, we should maintain our effort of introducing ICT into the educational environment in order to initiate such a positive spiral.

Rikiichi Koizumi is a professor at Shobi University in Japan. He has been a member of the Open School Platforms (OSP) Project and an advisor to the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology.

 

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