Colleges are teaching Generation Z: the ‘crisis generation’

23 May 2021, 6:00

The recession, Brexit and austerity have shaped Generation Z’s view of the world, writes Karl Pupé

Educators, we are living in crazy times. 

In our society, the old rules and protocols of how we live together are crumbling before our eyes. We are living through one of the most turbulent times in human history.  

We are witnessing the death-throes of the industrial age as our world deals with consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic and how it has radically changed our society overnight. 

But the turbulence of 2020 allowed us to witness the sign of things to come: the information age.  

We stare in wonder and fear as the internet 2.0 and artificial intelligence transform and shape our societies in ways that our ancestors could not imagine.  

Our students are in this brave new world. If you are an educator teaching students born between 1997 and 2012, who are between eight and 23 years old, you are teaching Generation Z

That places a large proportion of these learners in colleges and further education institutions. At this point, they are close to entering the outside world. 

Let me examine three characteristics of this group as you prepare them for the next step. 

  1. They believe in speaking their minds

In a survey of 13- to 29-year-olds by youth marketing website YPulse, 72 per cent believe that “hashtag activism” has the power to change the world, especially in light of the #BlackLivesMatter movement.

Generation Z are the first-ever human generation who do not know what life was like without the internet. They are known as “digital natives”. 

Covid-19 will be remembered as consolidation of the information age, and Generation Z are its first real citizens. 

Technology, especially social media, has given our students unprecedented opportunities to speak their minds, and have the world listen to them.  

We must use “trust-based empathy”

The lines between the rulers and the ruled are increasingly blurred and the internet has democratised power and attention.  

In our classrooms, students are less afraid to question, debate and, in some cases, confront us about why things are the way that they are. 

Educators can no longer rely on simply demanding obedience from our students. We must use “trust-based empathy”.  

This involves dealing with our students based on mutual respect, shared values and curiosity and creativity in the classroom. 

  1. They are pessimistic about authority  

According to a survey undertaken by consultants Deloitte in 2019, a mere 12 per cent of older Generation Z’ers (aged 18 to 25) believe that the political and economic situation would change over the coming 12 months. 

For many of our older students, a great deal of their defining moments were in the wake of the recession, government austerity and Brexit. This has made our young people more cynical and uncertain of the future. 

Educators must move from merely giving lectures to becoming their coaches, showing them that education is still a gateway for a better future for themselves and for the world. 

We must learn to bridge our subjects to their interests. We must no longer bribe them with the promise of a degree and a steady job, but inspire them about how they can contribute to a better future for their communities and the causes they care about.  

  1. They expect organisations to care 

According to Ipsos Mori, less than 30 per cent of students felt the things they owned said much about their socio-economic status, compared to 42 per cent in 2011.  

The report revealed that: “Despite pressure of a harder economic context, there has been a cohort shift away from materialistic values.” 

Our students have witnessed damning discrimination based on gender, race and sexuality. 

After the death of George Floyd, our students are also more conscientious than ever about how companies and institutions affect the world around them. Students support organisations not only for their services or products, but their stances on equality. 

The main thing is that Generation Z believes they are a crisis generation. They are actively looking at ways to make their world a tiny bit better.  

My advice is to give them a safe space to work their ideas.

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