EDUCATION IN THE 21st CENTURY
By Henriette Despaux Zubiaga (IVLP, Uruguay). EFL teacher and teacher educator.
Education is a basic condition for individual growth and social and economic stability and it has always been recognized as an integral part of the founding of national and regional development. The are many research evidences across the world showing that the introduction and integration of new technologies as effective and efficient tools in educational and teaching processes help raise the quality of education and contribute to the development of the countries.
Learning can become more dynamic as teachers and students become partners in accessing information, constructing relevant knowledge, and representing self and others. In this sense, the challenge is to analyse the role of secondary education in this century, so that teachers and consequently, the students can meet their prime objectives.
We are citizens of a world that is in continual change, in which we must learn to speak the language of modem technologies and be familiar with progress in science, while not forgetting our cultural identity and without becoming disconnected from our roots.
Education policies must overcome the tension between the need to prepare ourselves for the development of science and necessarily expensive new technologies, and the concern to offer equal opportunities for education to everyone. Appropriate national policies on new technologies in the education sector must guide initiatives to promote quality of education.
Additionally, the quality-equity of secondary education should be analyzed in terms of the potential schools have for capacity building and proactive knowledge distribution; a knowledge that facilitates social integration, insertion and participation, as well as the distribution of knowledge with a sense of justice and social equity.
The role of the secondary education teacher is essential to make a greater effort to socialize their students in the face of the reduced role of the family in this regard, while at the same time prepares teachers to work with a population that is increasingly heterogeneous.
To guarantee and improve student learning it requires, as a prerequisite, to provide educators with the opportunities and conditions for learning that is relevant, on-going, pertinent, up-to-date, and of high quality. Teachers cannot offer what they do not possess. They cannot teach what they have not learned. They cannot encourage values and attitudes that they do not have and do not share. In summary, they must be well prepared for their key roles as guides for future generations and must be continuous learners throughout their professional careers.
The roles of educators and their performance have an impact on students that goes much beyond the academic achievements of the latter. The attitudes and expectations of teachers (not necessarily attributable to their initial or in-service training) can be more important in influencing student learning than the mastery they have of their disciplines or their teaching methods.
Secondary education has been traditionally organized on the basis of a juxtaposition of subject matters, each of them generally covered by a different teacher.
At this point, it is important to emphasize that subject matter are not taught per se, but because of the specific contributions each one can make to the cultural, social and comprehensive education of students.
The complex and multidimensional nature of the problems afflicting the modern world, and the need to have an education tuned to the medium, adaptable to the needs of each community and oriented towards solving individual and collective problems, requires new and more relevant educational pathways, and ones that are better integrated to contemporary living.
It is not implied that these subject matters are not useful but should be redefined so that they meet the new objectives of secondary education and the training needs of adolescents. Perhaps one of the major criticisms secondary education must face, is that school knowledge is currently not transferred into daily life.
A new secondary education should clarify its relevance as an educational level, consider the typical features of the youths to whom it caters, redefine its curricular organization, provide suitable training to its teachers, and guarantee working conditions that lead to better performance and to an appropriate teacher-student relationship.
For that reason, a renewed secondary education needs updated teachers, capable of innovating and willing to become part of a continuous research and reflection structure. Education modernization calls for the active, committed and responsible participation of teachers.
Secondary schools have made enormous efforts to achieve the necessary unity and coherence, and this is one of the problems that concerns school authorities the most. Achieving this unity implies adopting a new concept of the work of the teacher at the very core of the teaching institution and the ability to recognize that a secondary school is, essentially, a space of training and development in the widest sense of the word: intellectual, social, professional and human. Moreover, the use of new technologies tools in the education will progress if teachers receive the necessary information and assistance which they consider useful and important. Thus, we would be ensuring the education of our students through the continuing education of their teachers.
Furthermore, teachers, students and families must develop a sense of belonging to their school; view themselves as an integral part of a team and of an environment that encourages teaching and learning; in short, part of a genuine education domain.
In order to respond to the education needs of each and every student present in the classroom, it is fundamental to bear in mind the relation between quality and attention to diversity: we are thinking of those schools that consider that all of their students (and teachers) are diverse, in the sense that they possess singular interests, skills, and qualities that deserve an adequate response on the part of the school in the form of disposition and adjustments in their means and resources in order to favor learning (and teaching) of each of them, without exception.
In effect, attempting to share and to reach common goals, it is essential to respect and value diversity, promoting team achievements and benefit from one another’s wisdom and experiences.
Curricular decisions that foster and guarantee a broad multilingualism are crucial to ensure a peaceful coexistence, to take advantage of openings to the international community, as well as, to introduce the option of learning a wide range of languages that facilitates the broadening of numerous cultural horizons. There is a social challenge in which secondary education should once again be an effective instrument to reduce the social gap. This implies the need to offer focused attention to different levels of social demands, enhancing the engagement of students in the learning process and reducing the dropping out of schools, by providing new tools and approaches to help address some of the challenges in a sustainable manner.
To conclude, it is important to highlight that the barrier between school and society must be overcome and there is a need to provide a more substantive learning process to people so they can understand their reality and attempt to improve it in order to facilitate their well-being and that of society.
Social and pedagogical sciences should be developed in direct proportion to the increase in technological trends, adopting these technologies for use in the field of teaching and learning. In this sense, we can benefit the new generations with an education of better quality, relevant to the needs of the young, allowing them to master the powerful forces of technology and science, using them for the benefit of humanity.
Author’s brief background
Henriette Despaux Zubiaga is an EFL teacher and teacher educator. She is a Mentor teacher in Canelones province, Uruguay. She currently teaches at a public High School and works as an English language coordinator in a private institution.