Most of our students, who belong to Gen Z, are very different
By V. Joseph Xavier, SJ
If we have to understand our youth, particularly our students, we have to know what sociologists say about what they call the Z generation (Gen Z). They are also called ‘Post-Millennials.’ They are called so, because millennials, born between 1981 and 1996, are called Gen Y.
Who are those who belong to Gen Z? Those born between the year 1996 and 2010 belong to Gen Z. This means now (2022) their age may be between 12 and 26. The 21st century is the century of Gen Z. The first truly digital natives, they live in the world of smart phones, social media, internet, multi-tasking, and gaming. They are known as the glass generation as they use iPad and computers for their learning. The use of technology is likely the most common characteristic of Gen Z. They live their lives online, and they love sharing both intimate and mundane details of their life, like their relationship status, a restaurant review or an Instagram photo of themselves.
Some of them have completed their studies, and are now working as businessmen/women, CEOs or entrepreneurs. Many of them are in colleges, undergoing higher education of their choice.
Their motivations, learning styles, characteristics, skill sets, and social concerns are different from those of previous generations. While being skeptical about the cost and value of higher education, they are also entrepreneurial, innovative, and independent learners, and are concerned about effecting social change. Understanding Gen Z’s mindset and goals is crucial to imparting higher education to them.
Right from birth
Gen Zs were born into a world that takes for granted several gadgets. They were born with a television in every house, cell phones in every hand and air conditioner in all middle class families. Unlike the previous generations, they were exposed to technology from birth.
But what they are today, whatever they have achieved or become, directly depends on the kind of education they get and the type of influence the outside world has on them.
Studies reveal that a majority of Gen Zs (about 80 per cent) think that school education is important to create a base for future. They take academics, cultural activities, small school level competitions and other events seriously. The 12 years of school help them become disciplined. Not all achieve equal success, but they get into college for further education. About 2 per cent start building their careers at the school level itself. This is less as compared to older generations because many countries have made school education compulsory. UNESCO’s ‘Education for All Global Monitoring Report 2010’, says that about 135 countries have constitutional provisions for free and non-discriminatory education for all.
Their Learning Style
Gen Z students are digital integrators, simple and flexible, connected to a borderless world, visual learners, prefer flexible learning and want the teachers to communicate and engage them in the process of learning. They try to assess the relevance of what they are taught. They want to have access to technology. They are multi taskers. They prefer social interaction. They are entrepreneurial.
They think digital in all assignments and activities. They tend to break the content into short segments. They want their time to be respected and would prefer individualized instruction. They want access to resources and would like to be acknowledged as smart, creative and hard working.
Unlike the previous generations, they were exposed to technology from birth. But what they are today, whatever they have achieved or become, directly depends on the kind of education they get.
Desire to achieve
Their focus is on getting good grades. They see college as the key to a high- paying job and success, and miss the bigger picture of what a college education should be about. They are pressured to decide early on a career – and have been put on a career track orientation very young, even from school. Their focus is more on the world of achievement rather than personal development.
Gen Z want to find a niche for themselves in the world. They want to rule, enjoy power, want followers, but they want to do it with talent as a weapon, not bullets and bombs. About 40-45 per cent of Gen Z migrate to other countries for post-graduation or jobs. Their number may increase further in the future.
Dividing line blurred
Since they have grown up with technologies at their fingertips, the dividing line between work and social life, of study and entertainment, of private and public life has blurred. They live in an open book environment – just a few clicks away from any information. They connect in a borderless world across countries and cultures, and they communicate in a post-literate community where texts and tweets are brief, and where visuals and videos are the way they communicate.
Special & important
As most families have just one or two children, Gen Z are used to being treated as special and important They are the most wanted generation. Every milestone in their lives is marked with celebrations and praise. Hence, they carry a sense of entitlement and expect frequent positive feedback. It has been instilled in them that they are vital to their parents, families and nation. They feel they are here to solve the world’s problems that older generations have failed to solve. They may claim they want privacy, but they crave attention at the same time.
They have been highly protected as children. They have grown up at a time of increasing safety measures (car seats, baby on board signs and class rooms and public spaces equipped with CCTV cameras). They are rarely left unsupervised. They are sheltered from having to take care of their conflicts as parents do it on their behalf, and “spare” them from unpleasant experiences. Therefore naturally when they come to the college, they expect the faculty and staff to shelter, protect, and nurture them – and resolve their conflicts for them. Unable to handle conflicts or stress from schools, studies, peers and parents, they go to the extent of taking their lives. Gen Z are the focus of the most sweeping youth safety movement in human history.
Outside the classroom
Traditionally, learning took place mainly in the classroom and the students learned to apply what they learned through homework. Today content can be accessed through technology anywhere, and often in very visual and engaging forms. Thus, most of their learning takes place outside the classroom. But the essential engagement and practice is still conducted at school, by the all-important facilitator, rather than the teacher.
Global as never before
They are mobile in terms of the jobs they will have and the homes they will live in. It is therefore important to think about how one can equip this generation with not just content but resilience in a changing world. They are truly global and are the most likely generation to work in multiple countries. They are the most globally connected and influenced generation in history. Therefore they are not limited to the local but are global as never before.
The first truly digital natives, they live in the world of smart phones, social media, internet, multi-tasking, and gaming.
For Gen Z messages have increasingly become image-based. Signs, logos and brands communicate across language barriers with colour and picture. Communicating symbols and pictures with stories is not a new concept. Most ancient forms of communication such as rock art, tell stories through pictures. Visuals are also the way in which the brain processes information best. Earlier auditory delivery dominated the classroom. The teacher just kept talking to the students. But Gen Z depend on the visual and ‘hands on learning styles’.
They are motivated, goal-oriented, and confident in themselves and the future. They expect college to launch them to greatness. They brag about their generation’s power and potential. They have high levels of optimism. They are assertive and believe they are “right”.
They are group-oriented rather than being individualistic. They may sacrifice their individual identity to be part of a team. They prefer egalitarian leadership. They are a tight-knit generation. They do not want to stand out among their peers. They want to be seen as part of the group. They dislike selfishness and are oriented toward service and volunteerism. While they are group-oriented among themselves, they may “politely” exclude other generations.
Right from their childhood, their time has been tightly scheduled. They are used to having every hour of their day filled with structured activity. Sadly, this generation has lost a sense of spontaneous play. They struggle with handling free time.They feel pressured to succeed. They have been pushed hard to achieve, to avoid risks, and to take advantage of opportunities. They think multi-tasking saves time and is a smart thing to do but are not usually aware of the poorer quality of results.
Open to others
They want to communicate with people from other lands and other cultures. They want to diminish the boundaries, and they want to believe that people in other lands are the same, except the culture. They believe that someday in future, the whole world will share the same culture. Their idols, their inspirations, their idea of love, their idea of passion, their idea of success are uniquely their own. This is why older generations cannot force their ideas of all these on them. The older generations may try to persuade them with tales of their success and achievements, but Gen Z will manage to find a loophole in everything the older generations present to them.
More curious, more connected
They are young, they are wild, they are curious, and they are the strongest force on this earth. They have the capability to change everything that is built today. Being part of the most technologically advanced generation in history has provided them with some distinct advantages.
They have a positive attitude towards technology and are not afraid to try new things. Because they’re comfortable exploring the Internet, they are more connected to the world than previous generations. When they’re curious about a subject, they’ll often research it online. They stay connected to the media all the time. Eager to adopt technology at all levels, they tend to push others to do the same. They approach all aspects of life from a global and visual perspective. They crave for technology-enhanced learning opportunities. They look for educational opportunities that use visually enhanced methods of teaching. They know more about other cultures and are often more tolerant of cultural differences.
Since they have grown up with technologies at their fingertips, the dividing line between work and social life, of study and entertainment, of private and public life has blurred.
Differences between Gen Y and Gen Z
Fifty per cent of Gen Z prefer to save money than to spend it, unlike Gen Y. They prefer shopping online for almost all their purchases unlike the previous generations. While Gen Y watched YouTube, Hulu and Netflix, Gen Z want to co-create, live stream, and help to make up the activity as they participate. While Gen Y loved sports and adventure, Gen Z sees sports as a health tool, not for play. While Gen Y initiated text messages as a norm, Gen Z prefers communicating through images, icons and symbols.
As educators and as the teachers of Gen Z, we need to keep in mind they are a digital, visual, creative generation. We must remember that they want to be recognised for their contribution and so we need to express appreciation for their efforts and encourage them. They are confident of their ability, and we need to affirm it. Teachers of earlier generations may forget that Gen Z want individual attention in learning and want the teacher to involve them in their learning. They are social in outlook and are interested in social issues. This will help in making them aware of social problems. Their global outlook may inspire teachers of earlier generations to give up their narrow, provincial outlook.
A former Principal of Loyola College, Chennai, and former Research Director at the Indian Social Institute, Bangalore, V. Joseph Xavier, SJ has worked in the field of Higher Education for more than 40 years. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.