Rethinking Teaching and Learning in the 21st Century

Rethinking Teaching and Learning in the 21st Century

According to Harvard GSE’s Pathways to Prosperity report, “roughly half of all Americans reach their mid-20s without the skills or credentials essential for success in today’s increasingly demanding economy.”

As per the demands of the global economy, the change must be initiated at the school level itself. Nowadays, top universities have a wider parameter for accepting students, keeping in mind the requirements of the modern world where cut-throat competition is the way forward in career advancement. It is no longer entirely hinged upon the academic success.

Leading organizations are on the lookout for prospective community leaders who have a passion for service, multilingual learners who can bridge cultures, and creative problem-solvers who are not afraid of taking risks. This requirement can be truly fulfilled only at the nurturing level.

Thus, schools are required to focus not only on the academic curriculum, but also chalk out programs to develop emotional, social and ethical intelligence of the students.

Schools have a critical role in equipping students for the 21st-century workplace, which will require a mix of soft and hard skills for success.

Need for Reforming Education

“It’s time to throw out everything you know about teaching and learning in the 21st century and go back to the drawing board “- Mark Riley

Foundations and fundamentals of how human beings learn, take in new information, create new information, and ultimately store that information in our brains for future retrieval cannot change. The enormous challenge faced by 21st-century educators is to equip the students with skills appropriate for this century. The technology is making rapid advancements and it is only going to maintain its faster pace than ever before. Yet, there is a consensus that effective teaching involves students using skills to acquire knowledge. The earnest need of the hour as zeroed by experts is to rather take few steps back and actually go all the way back to the early thinkers in Schooling, Education, and Educational Psychology.

Jerome Bruner was an American Psychologist and an authority on human cognitive psychology and cognitive learning theory in educational psychology. He studied how children learn and he believed that having the ability to make connections was the most important part of schooling. He also felt that the process of education should not focus on just memorizing facts. As humans, we build onto the information that we have stored into our brains over time.

Another Psychologist and educational reformer, John Dewey,  believed that human beings learn through a ‘hands-on' approach. He emphasized that pragmatism and experience are the best teachers. This was true in the age of Industrial Revolution when the society was transforming from an agrarian to an industrial one, but it holds true even today five centuries down the line.

Experience is still the best form of learning even in the 21st century and the only add-on is how innovatively we can provide those opportunities to our students, both inside the classroom and outside of it. Other educators have also emphasized that knowledge is just not about hard facts but involves the way by which the brain transforms a thing or idea. Students construct this knowledge from interaction. This interaction is an ongoing process not necessarily confined to classroom sessions.

Education in the 21st Century

Google sponsored report “Fostering exploration and excellence in 21st-century schools,” published in January 2018, discusses the findings of the research, which draws on a survey of 1,200 teachers and administrators in 16 countries.

The research was conducted by The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), the research and analysis division of The Economist Group. It examined the strategies that are most effective for developing 21st-century skills, or a mix of soft skills (e.g., problem-solving and collaboration) and foundational literacies (e.g., mathematics and reading). It also investigates how technology can support such efforts.

A holistic approach is the key. This includes integrating different educational strategies and techniques, and empowering teachers with greater autonomy.

But the question of how to implement this change in classrooms is less clear. Let us explore some possibilities.

Autonomy to Teachers

Providing autonomy to teachers is very important as many studies have shown a strong correlation between teacher autonomy and school readiness to teach both foundational literacies and soft skills.

Budget for Innovative strategies

There is a requirement of regular budgetary allocation in the schools for implementing new strategies. Many schools are skeptical about this expenditure which hinderers innovation in the education system. Moreover, educators are divided over the timeframe to include the latest tools and technology. As per the EIU report of Google, Educators most often advocate a cautious approach for implementing new teaching strategies and technologies. The need of the hour is for teachers to show readiness in adopting innovative teaching strategies and develop an appropriate learning environment for the same.

Clever Classroom Project

Teaching and learning cannot be revolutionized in the absence of supportive classroom tools. There is a common consensus around technology being embedded in the modern education system. Educators have suggested clever classroom project. It involves rearranging physical space and using technology to enhance interactivity and student participation in traditional learning spaces.

According to a study by Professor Peter Barrett, classroom design has an impact on children's learning. “Well-designed classrooms can boost children’s learning progress in reading, writing and Maths in primary school pupils by up to 16% in a single year.”

Furthermore, interactive technologies like Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality provide an opportune atmosphere for students to live their earning.

When a student interacts, he learns.

Physical Factors

The physical factors that have a direct bearing on a student's education are natural light, temperature, air quality, colour and classroom design. Also, the classrooms must be designed as a laboratory to facilitate learning and promote discussion in accordance with technology, furniture and design. This inculcates development of soft skills like presentation, planning, and teamwork. Educators emphasize that this zone must be prepared as a zone of informal learning and self reflection that is more relaxed with less monitored space.

A classroom is ideally a place for investigation & inquiry to promote students’ problem-solving and critical thinking skills through creative projects that may involve others as a team.

Modern educators also insist upon increased opportunities for personalized learning with tailor-made activities.


Education for the 21st century must be developed with a meaningful emphasis on overall personality training as a part of comprehensive school reform. This should include work and educational experiences that would help the students in thinking vivaciously to create a culture of innovation and invention.

Contributor Bio – This post is presented by Sharda University. Sharda University is one of the largest universities in Delhi National Capital Region (NCR) offering 216 varied programmes.

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