The challenges of the 21st century are frankly going to be very different from those we faced over the past 300 years. The industrial period is over. Many today say that we are in the fourth industrial revolution while referring to the use of smart technology in our manufacturing and industrial processes. I say that we have left the industrial era and we are now in the first intelligent revolution. The continued growth in information and knowledge processing speed in conjunction with the development of artificial intelligence, will be a game-changer for education and inevitably for the teaching profession.
How we process information and generate knowledge with artificial intelligence will drastically change the way we think and learn. It is the latter dimension I want to focus on in this article, more specifically on what the role of teachers will be within a new learning space established as a result of the intelligent revolution. Socrates quipped, not surprisingly, when he said that there was nothing he could teach anybody but the ability to learn how to think. This takes on elevated importance as AI becomes a dominant factor in our decision-making process. What we teach our students and the people who we entrust to take on this important task will hold a more important position in our education systems in the first intelligent revolution than ever before.
A teacher of the future must also be an individual who can empathise with her students, understand and navigate through their emotions as they learn to become active citizens of society. (Photo: Reuters)
The teacher of today is pressured to achieve one main objective: to teach her students to excel in examinations and her performance is therefore measured by the student pass rate in her class or her area of expertise. Therefore, teaching collapses from the concept of teaching to learn to think, to teach to pass examinations. Having a high grade in a time-pressured one-time examination is not the best method to gauge learning. This has been well documented in literature, and also highlighted when a letter from 83 prominent academics was sent to the OECD requesting them to stop conducting the PISA student learning assessment. Standardised tests are great at preparing students to pass exams, it is nothing more and nothing less. Does this matter in an era when information is available with a press of a button?
What might be more urgently needed is a teacher who can provide these attributes of learning, foundations of how to think critically, to question the facts and figures widely available on the internet and how to deconstruct and reconstruct information and knowledge in a manner that makes sense to one’s reality - to be curious and inquisitive about the workings of society and their place in a rapidly evolving interconnected world. This requires a teacher who is willing to learn as she/he teaches and one who is eager to search for answers together with the learners. A teacher of the future must also be an individual who can empathise with her students, understand and navigate through their emotions as they learn to become active citizens of society.
The recent pandemic has reemphasised the critical need to build the emotional intelligence of learners. The rising trend in stress, anxiety, depression and suicides among the younger generation is a cause for concern. The recent release of the Rethinking Learning report by the UNESCO Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Education for Peace and Sustainable Development (MGIEP) highlights the importance of building emotional resiliency among learners. This is aligned with Mahatma Gandhi’s vision of India and incorporating non-violence for the growth of a modern Indian. Attention regulation, emotion regulation coupled with empathy and compassion have been shown to be powerful tools not only to combat depression, but also to improve academic excellence.
So what does the teacher of the future look like?
A teacher for the 21st century is an intellectual who is able to foster critical inquiry and build the emotional resiliency of their students. Furthermore, the teacher for the future is emotionally resilient so she can effectively impart these skills to the learners. The teacher who is well-versed in digital pedagogy, understanding and making effective use of the available technology and AI in education. The teacher of the future does not perceive online learning purely as a transmissive digital tool, but actually embraces the digital world as a whole new transformative learning space. The teacher of the 21st century is versatile in producing digital content that provides an immersive, interactive, experiential, individualised and real-time feedback experience to the learner. Last but not least, the teacher of the future must impact the passion for learning into her students and enjoys the mutual learning and teaching that can happen between teacher and student.
The present teacher training programs will definitely fall short of meeting the expectations of the future teacher. Taking a cue from India’s New Educational Policy, efforts must be undertaken to introduce social and emotional learning into the proposed four-year B Ed program. Digital pedagogy should ideally be a necessary course requirement and teachers should be versatile in using AI in their classrooms and be able to understand the heuristics behind the AI algorithms in order to be able to make use of the analytics produced for the benefit of the learner.
A teacher of the 21st century is by default an explorer, unafraid to experiment and sees failure as part of the learning experience. She sees herself as a mentor/guide to the learner who is embarking on a journey-seeking intelligence to make the world a better place for herself as well as for all other living beings.