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“This sucks! School sucks! I’LL NEVER USE THIS STUFF ANYWAY. Why does it even matter?”[i] ~voiced by a “model” 15 year old sophomore student.
So accustomed to a fast-paced and ever changing landscape of digital experiences, today’s generation of K-12 learners are struggling to find relevance in their school work. It’s not just that their places of learning ban Generation Z’s preferred social and mobile communication tools — or that crowd-sourced wikis like Wikipedia are treated as “unverified reference” sources by many educators — the heart-breaking reality is that youth under the age of 18 (an ENTIRE GENERATION OF PEOPLE) are not getting the message that they matter.
And we all know, without “mattering” there is no learning. Students who are given critical thinking and problem-solving opportunities are more likely to prove themselves as entrepreneurs and innovators over students who are asked to memorize and regurgitate. Just a few months back, a study published in the research journal, Child Development, found that discussions with peers and parents –not teachers –fueled political engagement among low-income youth.[ii] To me, that is significant.
With one third of the world’s population online, and 45% of internet users below the age of twenty-five,[iii] the unconscionable divide that exists is perhaps, less about point of access, and more about giving everyone an equal opportunity to matter.
Each and every age should have an equal opportunity to matter.
A good part of the world today (aside from the most remote regions), enjoys mobile or internet connectivity. It is significant then, to recognize that ALL of today’s learners (elementary, middle and high school students) are born with the digital native mind-set. Despite their religious, national and socio-economic differences, the advance of social and mobile technologies have united this entire generation as global citizens.
Ten years ago, educator Sugata Mitra and his colleagues, installed networked PCs in the most desperately poor areas of the world without instruction of how or what to do. Without exception, these digital natives were able to organize, collaborate and learn complex data. This ground-breaking study serves to remind us why technology has been credited with being an evolutionary marker for mankind.
Experiments like these show that youth in Self Organized Learning Environments (SOLEs) – are capable of answering questions many years ahead of the material they’re learning in school. As a point of illustration take these 2 examples:
- 17 year old Angela Zhang, is a typical American teen who used the internet to discover a new way of treating cancer.[iv] When Angela was just a high school freshman, she began reading doctorate level papers on bio-engineering. Some scientists are calling her design revolutionary as it delivers a drug directly to tumor cells and doesn’t affect healthy cells around it. Since 2009, Angela has spent more than 1,000 hours on the project.
- 17 year old Luis Fernando Cruz, is from the impoverished nation of Honduras. He created an advanced eyeball tracking computer device that could dramatically change the lives of thousands of disabled people in developing countries.[v]
Studies have shown that the brains of GenZ kids (born 1996 through 2010) are structurally different because of a constant exposure to tech. Technology is literally training us to be nimble thinkers, capable of processing new ideas quickly. Specifically, digital fluency opens us up to new ideas, so that we communicate more freely and frequently.[vi]
Moreover, youth are fueling the compassion boom[vii] by connecting with like-minded people worldwide. Research proves that youth brains favor emotionally-stimulating information[viii], which is perhaps why more and more kids gravitating towards, and actually solving some of the world’s most complex problems. The simple truth is, youth will learn to do, what they want to learn to do.[ix]
My call to action with this blog is to ask each of you to support Angela Maier’s movement in noticing youth — or anyone for that matter — who are making a difference. It can no longer go unnoticed that young people across the country and around the world are setting world records, performing selfless acts and making major innovations in science and technology.
[ii] Study “Changes Our Understanding” Of Youth Voting Behavior (2011: Sep 23)
[viii] Hooked On Gadgets, Kids Ditch Reality For Make-Believe (2012: Feb 1)