N Touch
Wednesday 15 August 2018
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Understanding our learners’ needs


IN ORDER to adequately tailor our education system to meet the needs of our students it is imperative that educators understand the people central to the process – the learners. Given the advances in scientific and educational research, most educators would agree that traditional approaches to curriculum delivery simply do not cut it.

Our screen-age generation demands that information is available in an audio-visual and interactive format. They are also adept at mastering the use of the latest communication technologies and thus are easily turned off from traditional delivery modes. Their competencies in this area are an outcome of the exponential growth in digital technology and the quantum of information that is now available at their fingertips.

What has not changed is their voracious appetite for information. They are learning organisms and require little help to learn because learning is a natural process. Unfortunately, this natural disposition for the acquisition of new information begins to dissipate when we “educate” them with rigid structures of schooling. Because people can learn naturally, they can teach themselves if the right atmosphere is created.

In the information age, the education approach must be focused on how to learn rather than what to learn. The needs of children would be better served if we were to guide them to use their innate capacity to be self-directed lifelong learners, where education is perceived as a process rather than an end product.

Relevance and application of knowledge must be the driving force behind education approaches. Teachers must take the time to know their learners – their backgrounds and dispositions. Teachers must know their preferred learning styles and incorporate this awareness into the pedagogy.

Employers want employees who can solve complex problems and adapt to a rapidly changing economic and technological global landscape. This capacity on the part of learners will emerge when classroom practice is flipped giving them the opportunity to learn by doing, interacting, analysing and creating.

Mistakes must be encouraged since it can stimulate learning. Curiosity and risk-taking on the part of children must be encouraged rather than feared or avoided.

While many students in the past may have been deemed to have “failed” at school, their subsequent success in life is testament to the fact that it is really the system that failed them because it did not take into consideration their nature as learners.

The diversity of cultural backgrounds, the range of intelligences and the different learning domains that are now accepted realities of the educational intelligencia demand that differentiated classrooms be the order of the day. Here the diversity of learners is harnessed as an asset to learning rather than a liability. Failure thus becomes an obsolete concept given the recognition that classrooms experiences equip people for life.

Given our high failure rate, our high levels of crime and criminality, the lament of employers that potential employees lack the capacity to engage in critical thinking and problem-solving, it is an opportune time for the education fraternity and the wider society to reflect on what is undoubtedly an obsolete education model.

It is one that ignores the changing needs of learners and has not kept pace with social, economic and scientific advances. Its capacity to produce graduates who can add value to the society is dwindling, with schools becoming increasingly irrelevant.

If such reflection does not include the need to better understand the learner, schools will continue to fail large numbers of children. That is a mistake our society can ill afford. There is too much at stake. The investment being made in education must be able to yield better dividends.

Too many young people reject the education approach and are forced to map out alternative pathways to success, simply because as learners their true needs were not understood and catered for. Thankfully, having failed school, many continued to learn in their own unique ways and are now making significant contributions to our society as entrepreneurs, craft people and innovators.

Success as teachers depends to a large extent on our capacity to discern the needs of the learners and tailoring instructional approaches to cater to these needs. The changing dynamic of the learner is the only constant. The mandate of the school is ever evolving because schools are vehicles for the development of the society.

Central to the mandate of the school is the question of relevance. Relevant schools will not produce a majority of failing graduates. The stakes are already high and teachers ought to take note of the enormous cost.


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