The 21st century has changed the life world of the adolescent forever. Prof Eldrie Gouws said in her inaugural lecture held on 4 September 2012, “that with the demands of contemporary society, adolescents face far more challenges than their parents did two decades ago. Factors such as societal change, educational reform and technological advances contribute to the changing life world of the adolescent, moving them into the fast lane.”
She explained that the term “adolescence” is derived from the Latin verb adolescere, meaning “to grow up” or “to grow to adulthood”, thus referring to a developmental phase in the human life cycle that is situated between childhood and adulthood. Adolescence describes the time in a person’s development when there is the gradual movement from a state of dependency towards being able to function independently. In academic circles it is generally accepted that the phase of adolescence commences between the ages of 10 and 13 years, and ends between the ages of 17 and 22 years.
In the adolescent stage of life numerous developmental factors play a major role
Rapid physical change, cognitive and social developments all are crucial for the overall development of the adolescent. Apart from developing a sense of their own identity, they also need to establish their own gender role, a career and an ethnic identity. Becoming emancipated and gradually loosening the ties of parental authority is a major development task of adolescents. Relations with the peer group are highly significant for the formation of self-concept and for self-actualisation. Many adolescents find themselves ill-equipped to deal with the challenges of developing personal security, self-worth and self-confidence. When not able to cope, they may display strong feelings of anger, rebellion or depression.
Prof Gouws shared that the findings of the photo-voice research project (done to gain a realistic overview of what is important to adolescents in Grade 11) led to the conclusion that there is a significant difference between the problems of adolescents as perceived by their teachers and the real problems adolescents experience in everyday life. Most of the adolescents indicated that social problems caused the most traumatic experiences in their lives, namely problems such HIV and AIDS, teenage pregnancy, alcohol and substance abuse, and unemployment and poverty.
Technological advances and Generation Y
The 21st century has also brought with it a different revolution: the adolescents of today are on the cutting edge of technological proficiency. Scientific knowledge, technological developments and the electronic and data-driven world are expanding at a high rate. Adolescents of today are a generation that knows a great deal about technology. This generation is referred to as Generation Y or the Millennial Generation.
There are two major characteristics of the Millennial group: They are extremely independent because of their experiences of divorce, day care, being raised by single parents, and the technological revolution that they are growing up in; and secondly they feel empowered. Generation Y is plugged in 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Generation Y is being raised in the age of the “active parent” and believe they can accomplish almost anything. This generation has a strong sense of entitlement and are driven and ambitious. They value teamwork and seek the input and affirmation of others. The way they learn is different from the way their parents did, so educators need new, fresh approaches to make learning both real and relevant. The application of theory is the cornerstone of the success of Generation Y. Generation Y craves attention in the form of feedback, encouragement and guidance, and they may benefit greatly from mentors who can guide them and help develop their knowledge and skills to cope with the increasing pressures and escalating competitiveness of a global economy.
Prof Gouws said that today’s adolescents find themselves in the fast lane of life and either knowingly or unintentionally we as the adults fail to provide them with what they need. The focus of what is needed has shifted to the acquisition of skills underpinned by knowledge to a focus on selected knowledge only.
As today’s adolescents are moving in the fast lane, educators, parents and other stakeholders in education have fallen behind. Educators ask themselves: “Why is technology and curriculum reform not transforming education in South Africa?” There are many reasons for this, but according to Mathews (2012) one of the major reasons is the fact that so many students do not have access to computers at home and at school to develop 21st century skills. Prof Gouws concurs with Dryden and Vos (2010) who point out that “the world our kids are living in is changing four times faster than our schools” and would like to add, “and four times faster than our universities too”. Many schools and universities prepare learners for a world that disappeared years ago. This is one of the reasons for the gap between the demand in the market and the skills that are offered by schools and higher education.
In catching up with the fast lane Prof Gouws recommends that higher education institutions design their curriculum (especially their teacher training curriculum) in such a way that:
- teaching, learning and assessment methods deal with the multiple intelligences of learners (The relationship of intelligences to the learning process should be a key point in any discussion about ways to promote higher academic achievement, student success and lifelong learning)
- all programmes take cognisance of all technological aids available to Millennials
- all programmes empower young people with the necessary knowledge and skills to negotiate developmental hurdles and to solve predictable life problems
- all programmes prepare these young people to meet the demands of the 21st century
If we want to prepare adolescents and students to function with confidence in a technologically driven environment, we need to catch up with those in the fast lane.