Today’s students are from the 21st century. So why are schools still in the 20th?

Kushal Gulab
New Update
Teachers of the 21st century

“If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow”


– John Dewey

One of the most powerful forces changing teachers' and students' roles in education is easy access to information.

The old model of instruction that was predicated on information scarcity has been completely transformed by ubiquitous access to the internet, at least in urban areas of India. Where the old model required teachers to be information oracles, spreading knowledge in society, the new model makes them facilitators in honing the skills necessary for success in the 21st century.

Today, the fundamental job of teaching is to help children learn how to use easily available information by developing their abilities to think critically, solve problems, communicate effectively and collaborate in groups – the key skills of the 21st century.

Freed from the responsibility of being primary information providers, teachers now have the opportunity to spend more time working one-on-one with individual students or with small groups, motivating them and developing these skills.

The changing relationship between students and teachers demands that the structure of school changes as well. Unfortunately, most schools in India are behind the curve on this transformation. While a handful of schools and private teachers are evolving, the vast majority are teaching 21st century children with 20th century tools.


“You can teach a student a lesson for a day; but if you can teach him to learn by arousing curiosity, the child will continue the learning process for the rest of his life” says Vandana Ahuja, Program Director at Cedarwood Afterschool Program, a network of teachers focusing on building these 21st century skills in children.

The communication and information revolution has led to changes in all spheres: scientific, technological, political, economic, social and cultural. To be able to prepare our young people to face the future with confidence, purpose and responsibility, the crucial role of teachers cannot be overemphasized. Today students aren't consumers of facts. They are active creators of knowledge.

Understanding how students really learn is prompting the new age teacher to reject teaching that is primarily lecture-based and which encourages rote learning, in favour of instructions that bring out their creativity by personalising lessons and challenging students to take an active role in learning while constantly encouraging and motivating them via project-based, participatory, educational adventures.

Rajul Sen, who runs her own science coaching centre after teaching for several years at St. Mary’s School in Pune, says “In order to get students to truly take responsibility for their own education, the curriculum must relate to their lives, class activities must be fun and engage their natural curiosity and periodic assessments must measure real accomplishments and become an integral part of learning.”

According to Sharmishtha Guha, a teacher who recently retired as the senior coordinator at Bishop’s School in Pune, “Students always need mentors, both inside and outside of the classroom. A teacher’s primary role is that of a mentor - not only guiding her students through the academic challenges but also equipping them with a strong character and self-confidence that will help them solve problems of the 21st century.”

Progressive teachers not only transmit knowledge to students but also instil in them a sense of their place in the larger world, and urge them to be active participants in it.


To truly professionalize teaching, in fact, we need to further differentiate the roles a teacher might fill. Hence today a teacher can be in a multidimensional role: facilitator, mentor, innovator, counsellor, techno-savvy and finally a role model in the truest sense as a good human being.

While a handful of progressive school teachers are taking on the mandate, are the other stakeholders – the government, boards, evaluators, school principals and parents – willing to rethink their roles in educating our children in a rapidly changing world?

Feature image credit:

teachers day students schools teachers 21st century changing role of teachers