Seeing the future through young eyes

The adrenaline rush when you engage young minds in a rhetoric discussion is always there, even after two decades of teaching.

Most of the time, these young minds have their own set of beliefs and these have been shaped through various mediums such as school, home, friends and the social network.

While a youth's belief system is of a different shade of colours from the rest, the harmonious blend of colours is essential in making the canvas more vibrant. The real challenge for educators is often how to balance these colours while ensuring that the canvas - our underlying value system - is not torn in the disguise of social modernisation.

In our journey as educators, most of us have realised that our lenses may dilute our students' vision of life and, thus, we have co-opted an agreement where we respect each other's perceptions. At times, truthfully, this seems like two lines not meeting at all. But again, not all lines need to converge and parallel lines can also co-exist harmoniously. As I speak with more and more youths, I tend to realise that their set of lenses seem to highlight some of the blind spots which I may have overlooked. That said, I also realise that some of these youths, who have now become young adults or even young parents, seem to have crossed the line where I had been standing all along and urging them to peek into my reasoning. I resonate with the belief that everything comes in a circle.

During a morning lesson, a student threw a question at me. She said impatiently: "Aasiriyar (Tamil teacher), I don't believe that by not speaking my mother tongue, I am in any way less a custodian of my language and culture. I can always champion in many other ways!"

I agreed with her but I added that knowing one's mother tongue is one of the basic requirements of being a custodian. She disagreed.

After graduating, the student spent a good 10 years overseas. Recently, she chatted with me on Facebook and the first thing she typed was "Vanakkam Aasiriyar" with the emoticon of hands being clasped in the Indian traditional way. We had a good chat and now, she says that even though she dances bharatanatyam, eats Indian food and wears Indian clothes and tries to be pious, losing touch with her mother tongue has made her "less" of an Indian. I corrected her again and told her that she is in no way less of an Indian. I urged her to pick up Tamil - no one completely forgets one's mother tongue.

This socio setting of perceptions is always going to be a challenge, especially for a young nation like ours. Our social setup of ethnicity has changed in the last few years with new sub-ethnicities emerging such as "Chindian", a mixture of Chinese and Indian parentage. All these unavoidable complexities are making the canvas more complicated and the colours too inter-connected. Can we stop this convergence? Realistically, we cannot.

Thus, the only way forward is to anticipate the future and work towards aligning our outcomes. When one talks about the future, the acronym VUCA should be the first thing on everyone's minds. VUCA stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity.

Are we prepared for this future in all aspects? Who is responsible for inculcating the skills needed for the next generation to face VUCA? Schools, homes or the nation? These hard truths need to be addressed at each milestone of every youth's learning journey. The next generation of youths are completely different from the earlier batches, just like our smartphones. Each version seems more advanced than the former.

I believe that our education system has been addressing VUCA carefully and that is the key reason the concept of holistic learning is deeply rooted here. Our students today are equipped with skills and technology to handle every aspect of VUCA.

I recently had my first encounter with a 3D printer while visiting the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD). I remember two decades ago, one of my young charges told me that it will soon be a reality to clone something - I disagreed vehemently then! It has turned out that his lens was correct and mine, blurred! While leaving SUTD, my mind was racing with thoughts of "What's next after 3D printers?"

Time will tell.

R. Anbarasu is the centre director at the Umar Pulavar Tamil Language Centre.

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