Textbooks and technology go hand-in-hand

Research from Dell shows that Gen Z, many of whom are still studying, expect educators to provide them with the skills they will need in the labour market.

Textbooks and technology go hand-in-hand
To adapt to a technology-saturated workforce, it is crucial to determine the kind of knowledge that young students need, and then deploy the right tools to achieve the same

By Billy Cheng

Technology is proliferating in every aspect of our daily lives, and out of all the generations, the Gen Z (usually those born between 1995 and 2010) seems to be taking the most advantage of it. They are the first generation to grow up as true digital natives—from their earliest memories, they have been exposed to the internet, social networks and mobile devices. This generation, unlike the Gen X and the millennials, was not there to fully experience the internet’s revolutionary power to reinvent and replace the way we work, communicate and consume content. For them, the internet is not a privilege—it is something that has simply always been around.

The Gen Z are used to living in a 24/7 online world, where everything from dating to shopping to watching films happens online. While this holds true to a large extent for the millennials and to the Gen Y, an aspect most unique to the Gen Z is the influence of technology in education and learning. Unlike ‘old days’ when we used textbooks, notebooks and blackboards, academic institutions globally are integrating technology into their curricula to keep up with tech-savvy students. From virtual manipulatives and Google Cardboards, to something as simple as using online calendars, teachers are innovating to improve education delivery. In more progressive institutions, you can find virtual classrooms, online learning, podcasts and even the use of VR-based training in areas such as medical, automotive, etc.

Closer to home, only 26.42% of the country’s schools were found to have computers in 2015, but things are changing. For example, the Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalayas that partnered with Samsung Smart Class and provided access to digital learning to over 2.5 lakh students since 2013. Additionally, the government itself has introduced several schemes such as RISE (Revitalising Infrastructure and Systems in Education) and SWAYAM (Study Webs of Active Learning for Young Aspiring Minds) that boost learning and focus on use of new-age technologies such as cloud computing, AI and VR in schools. When it comes to higher education, more and more colleges/universities in India are regularly using office software and collaboration tools such as Slack and Google Docs to carry out group projects. In fact, it has become the norm for students to use the internet for planning, researching and completing assignments. Crucially, these are the same software programs and platforms that students will most likely use in their careers as they join the workforce. Hence, an early introduction to and systematic training in certain essential apps and software, such as an office software, is critical for students as they find their first jobs and move up the ladder.

Hindrance to digital literacy

Research from Dell Technologies shows that the Gen Z, many of whom are still studying, are more likely to expect educators to provide them with the skills they will need in the labour market, which is constantly evolving. India, being one of the largest networks of higher education institutions in the world, can tap into this huge scope and train millions of students for new-age jobs. However, while several institutions are pioneering edtech models that promise to effect real change, there also exist many (especially in rural areas and tier-2 cities) that have limited means to train students in basic digital literacy because of the lack of infrastructure or the high price of software subscriptions. Furthermore, many face risks of buying fake software licences sold by impersonators or using pirated software, without understanding the gravity of the issue or considering it a crime. More importantly, pirated and open source office software often lacks the latest features and tools that students will need in the workplace. This issue can stem from the lack of awareness amongst institutes about affordable, yet fully-compatible alternatives to train students for basic digital literacy.

Office software suites such as WPS Office, design software such as Pixlr, video editing software such as Lightworks and task management software such as Trello make it extremely easy for institutes to teach students basic but essential skills for the workplace. Many such software have completely free versions that function adequately and unlike ‘read-only’ and limited versions; and many come with options for paid upgrades.

Institutes must inculcate self-driven learning from an early age so that millions of students yearn to learn new skills. Students should be encouraged to explore and learn to use the essential software they will need later in life. Given the learning opportunities available online via gamification, virtual reality, blended learning, etc, it is becoming easier to acquire knowledge and skills regardless of a socio-economic background. In effect, data suggests the paid user base for online education will rise to 9.5 million by 2021 at a continuous annual growth rate of 44%. This means that we are on an upward trajectory as far as the use of technology goes.

The way we work is evolving

The way we work is constantly changing with slow but steady adoption of AI at the workplace, a shift from desk jobs, physical workspaces, permanent monthly payrolls, etc. Organisations across industries are leveraging technology to redesign current work outcomes and processes to focus on increasing productivity and cost-efficiency. For the millennials, this shift has been comparatively a more pleasant one; but the older generation has found it significantly difficult to cope up with fundamental changes—having no permanent workstation or having to perpetually work from home. In this evolving scenario, it is important to determine and impart the knowledge that the Gen Z needs to flourish in this new-age workforce. To adapt to a technology-saturated workforce, it is crucial to determine the kind of knowledge students need and deploy the right tools to achieve the same. If educational institutes in India can deliver better learning for today’s students and tomorrow’s workforce, it could help accelerate economic growth for a generation.

(The author is head of WPS International Business. Views are personal)

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