OPINION: Filling the generation gap in the classroom

THIS week is a generational landmark, as the first of Australia's "Digital Integrators" (Gen Zs) begin their final school exams. This research summary looks at who comprises Generation Z, their experience of education today and the jobs they are being trained for.

Who are Generation Z? (Born 1995-2009)

Australia's 4.6 million Generation Zs are almost exclusively the children of Generation X, and they are truly the 21st-century generation, with the whole of their formative years lived in this century.

They are today's youth, but by the end of the decade they will comprise 12 per cent of the workforce.

Armed with an education: our most formally educated generation yet

Australian youth today are spending more time in education than any other generation, with 71 per cent of high school graduates going on to further education and training (46 per cent of whom go on to university).

Generation Z will be Australia's most formally educated generation, with many schools already exceeding the federal government target that by 2015, 90 per cent of students nationally will complete year 12.

Digital integrators: get ready for the next generation of digital entrepreneurs

Today's adults are digital transactors, using the latest technology - but in a structured, procedural and task-focused way.

Young people can best be described as digital integrators - being exposed to digital technology from their early formative years, they have integrated it seamlessly into their lives, rather than using it as a tool through which they transact.

For example, the majority of Australian teenagers do not wear wristwatches, as their mobile phone is an integrated device that tells the time as well as having dozens of other applications. Exams provide the terrain in which generational conflict emerges - phones are banned, yet time management is a key part of examination success.

Additionally, with online education growing in popularity, this generation of year 12 students may be the last to complete their final school exams with pen and paper, a trend we're witnessing with e-tax overtaking traditional tax returns and millions of Australians opting for the eCensus over the paper form.

Cyber bullying: new challenges for a virtual generation

One third of students have been bullied in a context outside the playground, whether via social networking websites (such as Facebook), instant messaging, text or email.

Home is no longer a safe haven from bullies. Cyber bullying can take place anywhere and spread quickly.

The Transformation of Education:

Who? Facilitators

Young people carry technology and are only a few clicks away from any piece of information, so the role of the teacher is moving from being the source of content to a facilitator of learning; driving participation and interaction, rather than instruction.

What? The 3Rs of the future - relevance, responsiveness and relationship

In a world where 90 per cent of the data has been created in the past two years alone, the shelf life of education has never been shorter.

The focus is shifting from content to process, from the information itself to the means of gathering, analysing and applying the information.

When? Anytime, anywhere

With online learning and flexible delivery, student centricity is critical.

Schools are responding to the new timetables of families and the complexity of redefined households and roles by moving from a 9am-3pm school day to new alternatives.

Where? Open spaces, flexible places

Traditional classrooms were constructed to keep distractions out, keep the students in and keep them facing the teacher. However, 21st-century classrooms are being reconfigured (and rewired) to accommodate new technologies and new learning styles.

Rather than classrooms being the place where curriculums are taught, they are an implicit curriculum in themselves and are key to supporting the educational journey.

How? Flipping

Traditionally, the learning took place in the classroom and the application took place through homework. Now the content can be accessed through technology anywhere, often in very engaging forms. However, discussion and application of the content requires an expert facilitator - the teacher. Thus the flipping of education, where the learning takes place outside the classroom but the engagement and practice is still conducted at school.

Mark McCrindle is a social researcher and author. 

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