Educating for Life at Kambala – 21st Century Literacy

Posted by Kambala

Alvin Toffler wrote extensively about social evolution and learning in the 1970s and 1980s. His words are still relevant today. He wrote in his seminal book Future Shock that ‘the illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn’. The three-fold learning process he identifies implies that the literate will always be open to new ideas; will continually review their thinking for redundant habits of mind; and revisit learnings to revise and enhance them as social, cultural and economic conditions evolve.

Responses to the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic illustrates Toffler’s aphorism. Those societies and individuals who have examined and revised complacent social habits, those who have adopted the ‘new normal’ as something different but not as something to resist and those who have educated themselves about viruses, epidemiology, resilience, and social networks are literate 21st century citizens.

At Kambala, girls are dealing directly with the challenges of COVID-19 and because they are educated in an atmosphere of enquiry and open discourse, they see the circumstances imposed by the pandemic as learning challenges, not as barriers to progress. With a positive mindset, encouraged by teachers at Kambala, the girls are being prepared in 21st century literacy.

The sudden imposition of remote learning scenarios has had an impact on Kambala girls and students around the world. Kambala girls have demonstrated their 21st century literacy skills in their quick adoption of new routines and task submission. The girls have not resisted the sudden change from social to digital classrooms but have adopted interactive technologies, such as Zoom, as tools that enable learning and sharing and at the same time they contribute critical feedback to teachers concerning the limitations and potentialities of such platforms.

With the return of some students to the classroom in combination with some students attending via Zoom, a new classroom environment came into being. This hybrid scenario was adopted without anxiety by the Kambala girls further reinforcing their 21st century literacy skills as they learned a new hybrid mode of interaction and connection. Although some girls did speak eloquently about the lack of emotional connection in remote or hybrid lessons, one significant observation was that it was no longer possible to keep a low profile in order to passively allow other peers to create and guide discussions. In other words, a greater democracy in the classroom is now the expectation because the girls are encouraged to engage in debate in order to learn.

John Hattie reports in this 2009 meta-analysis of effective learning strategies that metacognitive opportunities are enhanced by classroom discussions when compared to more passive classroom experiences for students. To be 21st century literate students must practice debate, be comfortable when challenged and when defending a warrant. In the supportive and rigorous Kambala classroom girls are encouraged to debate, challenge and refine knowledge in order to further develop their 21st century literacy.

My experience as an IB teacher over more than a decade tells me that the most authentic learning comes from extended teacher-guided discussion and reflection. The Kambala learning environment, where students have more autonomy and exposure to a wide range of ideas, builds authentic understanding of complex issues and encourages the girls to be active rather than passive learners – to practice 21st century literacy.

For parents who want to support their daughter’s learning they can read the texts, case studies and data being studied in class and discuss ideas and concepts to encourage the idea that discussion of ideas is not just confined to the classroom. By encouraging a sustained atmosphere of discussion of texts and ideas in the home, girls will be supported in developing embedded and authentic learning rather than cramming for examinations in isolation.

Kambala classrooms are rigorous, inclusive and productive. As a consequence, girls should possess 21st century literacy skills in order to benefit from the learning challenges set by their teachers and their peers.

About the Author

Phillip Bird

Phillip Bird is Kambala’s International Baccalaureate (IB) Coordinator. Previously, Phillip was IB Coordinator at the Franconian International School in Germany from 2010-2018. Phillip has been teaching IB English since 2005.

Located in Sydney’s eastern suburbs, Kambala is a vibrant day and boarding school for girls up to 18 years of age. To learn more, download our Prospectus, or contact Tracy Mulligan, Director of Enrolments on 02 9388 6844.