What New Role Does 21st Century Learning Create For Parents? – Part 1

submitted by Nicky Mohan

Parents have a major role to play in their child’s education and a child’s success in school depends largely on how much his parents are involved with his learning and how they contribute in it. Parent involvement can be interpreted in many different ways.

Traditionally, it meant to attend every meeting, conference, function, etc., parents were invited to at school. Parent involvement in the 21st century means a great deal more than that. Parents today need to understand that they have a much more participative role in their children’s education. Parents are increasingly taking leadership roles in the school environment. They are forming groups and organized advisory councils to identify systemic issues in their children’s schools and are providing ideas and suggestions to solve those issues.


This is first of the 3 article series discussing about the new role that 21st century learning creates for parents. If parents today are asked to think of the classrooms where they spent their formative years, they would mainly envision a teacher instructing a class of passive students. The present day classrooms are no longer the same and have parents playing their part by taking on new roles. Schools are now making the shift to 21st century learning. Today students are required to learn a new set of skills that will prepare them for the challenges and changes ahead. Students can be fully ready for college and careers if along with academic knowledge, they also know about how to collaborate, think critically and creatively, and use technology tools to communicate. Rote learning and memorization won’t help students become the actively involved and creative thinkers who can work well with others. To embrace 21st century learning, there is a need to create opportunities for students to practice these critical skills through technology-rich experiences.

Learning in the Past

A major difference between 21st century education and education that went before it is the embedding of the 21st century skills in the curriculum. Earlier, skills like problem-solving or decision-making weren’t seen as important because when people left school, they went to work where they were told what to do and if they faced a problem or if a decision had to be made, they just took it to someone higher up rather than making it themselves. But in the modern world, there is more scope for autonomy and decision making at every level, we are all expected to be self-directed and responsible for our own work and autonomy. The 21st century competencies were not covered in yesterday’s schools. Academic rigor was defined by the 3 R’s (Reading, Writing and Arithmetic) and the coverage of a large amount of content and knowing the content was more important than understanding it.

Learning in the Present

As we know, that information is changing rapidly, so content doesn’t hold as much importance now and hence today’s students need the competencies to be able to apply previous experience to new situations and they need the ability to be lifelong learners because they will need to keep learning as the situations they find themselves in change.

Students should be engaged in more inquiry and project-based learning. Teachers, parents and guides need to be encouraging students to develop higher-order thinking skills.  They need to be guiding students as they direct their own learning.

Without a doubt technology can be used effectively to promote the building of 21st Century competencies. But just giving the student a new piece of technology for learning is not automatically going to bring about the changes in learning that we need. We need to rethink how students learn and we need to rethink what they are learning.  By ensuring that 21st Century competencies are embedded into all curriculum areas, all teaching, all assessments, and into the professional development teachers receive, children will be best prepared for their future careers.

The Reformed Role – From Parent as Supporter to Parent as Participant

In a special report entitled, A Vision for 21st Century Education by the Premier’s Technology Council (PTC) it has been emphasized that the new model of learning in the 21st century will be more collaborative and inclusive, changing the roles of the student, the teacher and parent.

According to it, the increased role of the parent has to be acknowledged. With greater information availability, parents can be more involved with their child’s education progress, overcoming challenges, and supporting learning outcomes. They now have the opportunities to learn more quickly and more intimately what their child is doing at school and can help guide decisions and respond to challenges more rapidly.

Technology allows far more access to the student’s progress than the periodic report cards and parent teacher interviews of today. Now, parents can expect and they do even receive greater feedback than in the past. With all this, it is also important for parents to recognize their educational role outside the classroom since the learning of a student outside of the school is critical. “Students only spend 14% of their time at school. Indeed, learning is an inherent part of everyday life: each new experience, at home, at work, or during leisure time, may throw up a challenge, a problem to be solved, or a possibility of an improved future state.”

While a stronger role for parents is envisioned, it has to be considered that not all students have the family support structures that will allow such involvement. The system must be structured in such a way that those who face societal barriers such as being single or immigrant parents are also able to participate while the system incorporates the support structures necessary to ensure the students get the support they need.

More about the new role of parents in 21st century learning is discussed in the next part of the series.

Nicky Mohan
Director, The InfoSavvy Group
Mobile:+01 (604) 368 6619
E-mail: nickymohan@me.com
Skype: mnmohan70 (Auckland)

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