A Crisis in Education: Generation Z

21st Century children are being educated for a 20th Century life.

When I look back on my life, I marvel at how childhood has changed. When I was a kid, the only reason I’d be sat watching television after school would be if it was raining outside, and sometimes that wouldn’t stop me. But nowadays, you’re more likely to find children chopping down trees in Fortnite with their friends than climbing a real one.

Childhood has changed, and without a doubt some of that change can be attributed to technology. Technology makes our lives easier and more convenient in countless ways. But as Uncle Ben once said ‘with great power comes great responsibility’. If I told you that I was going to buy my daughter a car for her thirteenth birthday and let her loose on the roads, you’d call me crazy. You’d be right to do so. We require people to pass a test before we allow them to drive a car. We educate them because we know that if misused, cars can kill people.

Why then, in 2019 are we content to let our children loose into the online world of social media and smartphones? When the world has seen an astronomical increase in attempted teenage suicide due to the pressures of social media and the rise of cyberbullying, isn’t it just as important to teach children how to safely navigate social media, just as they will one day learn to safely drive a car?

Doesn’t society have a duty to ensure our education systems are fit for purpose?

“The only thing I can remember learning in that class was how to put a condom on.”

The World Has Changed, But Education Is Stuck In The Past

If you had to think of the single-most-important technological breakthrough in the past fifty years, what would you choose? The chances are pretty high that you’d say the Internet. It isn’t difficult to see why given the way that it has completely revolutionised the way we communicate and share information.

It meant that we no longer need to visit a library to find out information, we no longer had to handwrite letters to our family or friends around the world. Why then, have our education systems failed to realise the magnitude of these technological advances? Why are we giving our children an analogue education to prepare them for life in a digital world?

A Time Before Instagram

When I started secondary school in 2002, if somebody had told me that they had Instagram I’d have probably recommended that they go and see their doctor. It wasn’t around back then. Social media, smartphones, selfies, we had none of it.

Please join me in a minute’s silence for all the avocados that were ever eaten without having their photograph taken.

The closest thing we had was probably MSN (Microsoft Messenger), but even that was dependent on you getting access to the Internet. If your Mum was on the phone to her friend for the third time this evening, then you were out of luck. Aside from that, the most sophisticated thing our family computer could run was Microsoft Pinball. Ah, memories.

So as far as my education went, it was pretty straight forward. I spent five years learning Math(s), English, Science, History, Geography, Music, Religous Studies, Drama, a bit of French and Spanish, etc. You get the picture. No need to learn about the impact of social media, because it hadn’t been invented yet.

But at a certain point in my school career, I remember having a lesson called PSHE. It stood for Personal, Social, Health & Economic Education. It was meant to teach about relationships, the importance of a healthy lifestyle, and some other vitally important things that I can’t remember. To be perfectly honest, the only thing I can remember learning in that class was how to put a condom on. A vital skill for a teenager to learn absolutely, but the fact that all I can recall is being shown how to roll a condom onto a rubber penis is perhaps not a great endorsement for that particular lesson.

Our world has changed, but education has failed to keep up. Thirteen years have passed since Facebook hit the Internet, yet the National Curriculum (taught by state schools in the UK) as it currently stands makes no mention of social media or cyberbullying. The term ‘PSHE’ is only used once in the entire 105-page document.

I’ve discovered that RSE (Relationships & Sex Education) is a new subject that will finally be taught as part of the curriculum in all schools in England as of September 2020. The document mentions social media, and informing students about the dangers posed by people online, and forming online relationships. Great stuff. But why has it taken so long for our education system to include this information, which has become so prevalent in the society our children have been growing up in?

Smells Like Teen Suicide

Children are naive and impressionable. So when they see the latest post from their favorite celebrity on Instagram, perfectly poised, a full face of make-up and an airbrushed“perfect” body, it’s bound to make them feel bad about themselves, because we have failed to teach them that the picture celebrities post online do not reflect reality. Are we really surprised that our children’s self-esteem and mental health is suffering? Is anyone shocked that by age 17, almost 80% of American girls report being unhappy with their bodies? In 2017, research found that the number of children and teenagers being hospitalised for attempted suicide or suicidal thoughts had doubled in a decade.

The technological advances we’ve seen in recent years have been a revelation. The world has changed, yet our education systems have not caught up. Like it or not, smartphones and social media are dangerous if abused. Don’t believe me?

I can use my smartphone to create, I can use it to learn, I can use it to inform and educate.

I can use social media to communicate, to share the important moments in my life with the people in my social network.

But I could also use it to tell another human being that they should kill themselves.

And depending on who I said that too, and what kind of things they are going through, they might just do it.

That sounds pretty dangerous to me.

Jon Peters is a 28-year-old writer from the UK, who once ate an entire 900g trifle to himself, with zero regrets. If you made it this far down the page, thanks for reading, it is much appreciated! You can get to my profile page super quickly by clicking here.

Trying to make the world a better place, one word at a time.

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