Preparing for 21st century learning at Sunway College

Today's classroom is no longer just about academics and assessments. Technology has dramatically changed the way lessons are taught and what new skill sets students must learn.

Photo: Sunway College

The foundation years and courses students undertake before university form the base of their tertiary education and the career they intend to pursue. At Sunway College, the Australian Matriculation (AUSMAT) is offered and 21st century learning is well in progress. We asked Vanitha Satchithanadan, Director and Head of Department of Australian Matriculation Sunway College, her views on the future of education and the tremendous impact technology has on the modern classroom. 

What does 21st century learning and education mean to you?
Traditionally education has been about focused teaching. However, an educator’s responsibility is to prepare students for their future. Rapidly evolving technology means information is a click away with search engines bridging knowledge gaps. The future of learning must move beyond the emphasis on gaining knowledge and focus on critical thinking, communication, collaboration, creativity and digital literacy. Education should also include character-building competencies such as curiosity, courage, resilience, ethics and adaptive learning. The world today is becoming borderless with interconnection and interdependence becoming the norm. Students should be aware of the opportunities and challenges of global citizenship and understand their role in this.  
What are some of the biggest challenges of encouraging change culture in colleges in Malaysia? 
Society staying in their comfort zone! Parents, students, educators, education institutions and policy makers are aware that new skillsets are required. Both business leaders and research have stated that graduates are not future ready! The challenge is daunting and developing holistic solutions take effort, time and​ investments.

I believe universities can lead the way and they act as incubators nurturing future graduates. They need to broaden the scope of entry requirements and not rely solely on knowledge-based exams. This will drive college and secondary school educators, students and parents to acquire a broader set of competencies.  

The challenge arises when educators who were schooled in the 20th century classroom have to impart 21st century skills to digital natives. Teaching effectively when knowledge was the key deliverable was already challenging. Educators today also struggle to ensure fair assessment of abstract and subjective 21st century skills; therefore, encouraging a culture of continuous professional learning among educators is essential.  

Another challenge of delivering 21st century learning skills is acquiring digital tools custom-built for education. It’s difficult for institutions to make the decision to invest in rapidly evolving infrastructure. However, the main challenge is getting educators onboard. Institutions need to understand that educators have varied levels of digital competencies and training sessions delivered by vendors are not enough – support is necessary. Education technology is still in its infancy and it’s an amazing time as rapidly evolving technological tools enable us to explore and communicate with students more effectively than ever before. 

How do you think technology has changed teaching? 
Since 2016, the Australian Matriculation (AUSMAT) lecturers at Sunway College have engaged in a coaching project using education technology to develop lessons with coaching customised according to digital competence. Today all AUSMAT lecturers create their own videos to develop flipped classroom models encouraging students to engage in self-directed learning, as well as digitalised learning environments that allow students to access class projects, review homework and do research. Classroom activities and formative assessments are also made interesting with various tools and apps. 

Education technology is a tool and cannot replace the educator in class. Our lecturers have to balance the time spent on digital work as many components of our exams are still in a written format, and students need to practise their writing skills. It’s important to note that student-educator relationships are vital for successful learning.

How can students prepare for this type of learning? 
The current generation of college students are digital natives who grew up using digital technology.  However, many have not been taught to be digitally literate. Students and parents need to understand the importance of digital literacy and learning new skills.

We have experienced resistance from students who aren’t familiar with self-directed learning and educators in facilitator roles. It’s vital for educators to ensure students understand how to use these new tools, make them feel at ease and show them how education technology enables effective learning. 

What are the 21st century skills students should already have when they reach college? And what should they expect to build on to succeed later in life?
In today’s world, we have become more interconnected and interdependent – artificial intelligence is a reality. I believe the most important skills for success are communication, collaboration, creative thinking, ethical values and cultural acceptance. Students need to understand the importance of constantly learning new skills (be lifelong learners) and be able to adapt to a rapidly changing world. College is where they will sharpen their 21st century abilities in preparation for careers that aren’t even in existence yet! 

Vanitha Satchithanadan will be a speaker at the upcoming Bett Asia summit and expo

This interview was conducted in partnership with Bett Asia.

Tags: Interviews, Features, SC
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