Gearing education for 21st-century students

A RECENT ARTICLE AND INTERVIEW IN THE PRAGUE POST FOCUSES ON TWENTY FIRST CENTURY LEARNING AT THE INTERNATIONAL SCHOOL OF PRAGUE.

Gearing education for 21st-century students: ISP emphasizes technology and critical thinking in interconnected world

Education has come quite a way from the days of chalkboards and field trips. What was once an educational outing to a local museum not far from a school can now be substituted with a virtual tour via the Internet. Technology has entered not only the classroom but also students’ homes, allowing them to find information with a single click. As Matt Hayes, a middle-school language arts and social studies teacher at International School of Prague (ISP), says, “We swim in information today. … Students today are digital natives, and their world does not resemble the one we grew up in.”

ISP, a coeducational day school for students from pre-kindergarten through high school (ages 3-18), is highly conscious of not only modern-day technological advancements but the new set of skills students need to learn to actively participate in their worlds. James Ebert, one of ISP’s teachers of 6- and 7-year-olds, explains that modern education is much more holistic and that teachers must prepare children to not simply remember facts. Instead, their new responsibilities include teaching children how to develop their own questions, find and evaluate answers, synthesize what they learn with what they already know and share what they know with others.

Derek Druce, an International Baccalaureate physics teacher at ISP, says he believes the divide between student and teacher has diminished considerably. Information is so readily available to all, he says, that both student and teachers are learners foremost. Arnie Bieber, the director of ISP, took some time to discuss the changing world of education, and what ISP is doing to keep up with the rapidly changing times.

The Prague Post: How is education different today, in the 21st century, compared with when you were at school?

Arnie Bieber: For hundreds of years, schools have followed a model where students were expected to listen to their teacher and learn passively, after which tests would be taken and grades would be awarded. Success depended primarily upon memorization and rote learning. While this model of schooling may have had its place in the Industrial Age, it is dawning on heads of schools, teachers and governments across the Western world that this old model does not give students what they need to succeed in today’s dynamic work environment, nor does it provide employers and the economy with the skills that new waves of students entering the work force should possess.

TPP: How have education systems had to shift, or adapt, to better serve and educate students in our modern day?

AB: Schools no longer hold a monopoly on information. Contemporary schools are faced with the challenge of remaining relevant to their interconnected students, who live in a world in which information about any topic is only a click away. While some might argue schools themselves are becoming irrelevant, the truth is schools are needed more than ever. Providing students with the basic literacy and mathematical skills they need is still important, but now students must, more than ever, learn how to think critically and creatively, work cooperatively and independently, and listen and communicate effectively. This is why the International School of Prague has incorporated these important 21st-century skills into our mission.

In stark contrast to the passive “Industrial Age” learning model, schools of today and tomorrow will provide a colorful, active and exciting experience where students learn to enquire, question, explore and construct their own understanding of a concept or subject. It is through real-world learning experiences and actually applying what has been learned that students gain enduring understandings, which they will retain on a deep level – not simply to pass tests.

While there are many schools and even national systems struggling with these new and challenging realities, some schools, such as ISP, have been able to effectively adapt to our rapidly changing world. Not only by grasping the potential of new technologies but also by incorporating the best educational practices from around the world.

TPP: One of the more obvious things that spring to mind when considering education in the 21st century is, of course, technology. Can you comment at all on that?

AB: While technology plays an important role in school, our central objective as educators remains student learning. While the technological resources at ISP are robust and second to none (with a one-to-one laptop program in middle and high school, and rich resources in elementary school), the point is to teach our students how to harness this powerful resource effectively and responsibly. Students should not simply learn about technology at today’s schools but learn seamlessly how to use technology as a powerful tool in all subject areas. Whether it’s in physics, music or social studies, ISP’s highly qualified IT integration specialists in each section of the school are there to guide and support students.

Our students also learn about technology as a distinct discipline with courses such as multimedia, film, computer science, programming, music and theater technology and even robotics.

I believe as students live with technology and the Internet every day, school is there to guide them in how to use this powerful resource effectively and responsibly. To that end, students and all members of the ISP community are involved in an extensive “digital citizenship” program. Throughout the year students, teachers and parents learn about digital etiquette, networking, research and appropriate protocols and behaviors.

TPP: Aside from keeping up and being familiar with technological advancements and opportunities, what other things must educators keep in mind when considering the students of the 21st century? For example, how important are foreign languages?

AB: It is our role as educators to ensure that we remain current and relevant with current educational research and within the world of today’s students. This is why it is crucial for 21st-century schools to provide a truly international curriculum in order to prepare students for a globalized world. For example, in addition to second languages such as French, Spanish or German, schools should be providing students with the opportunity to study world languages such as Mandarin. ISP is one of a few international schools to offer Mandarin as an integral part of our world-language curriculum.

While schools must develop and change to meet the demands of our times, it is crucial for our schools to continue to guide and nurture young people to become responsible global citizens with a foundation of strong values. Students must not only be prepared with important 21st-century skills, but with a deep understanding of traditional values such as integrity, respect and compassion. While these are “old” concepts, they are just as relevant today as they were in the past. An effective and responsive 21st-century school is one that can provide students with the authentic skills and essential values that students will need in life. This is why the ISP mission is to “inspire learners to lead healthy, fulfilling and purposeful lives, preparing them to adapt and contribute responsibly to our changing world.”

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