21st Century Children

by Tracey Burns

OECD Directorate for Education and Skills
Manuela Fitzpatrick
MA in International Relations at Science Po, Paris.

My son was accepted into film-making camp, and he’s only seven years old! I’m so proud. The only problem is that I’m not sure how I will get him there since the twins have their dance class and then empathy workshop on the same afternoon”.
On the phone with my friend, I make polite noises but inside I am thinking: what ever happened to kids having time to run around and just have fun?

What is the nature of modern childhood? Released today, the book Trends Shaping Education 2016 looks at major social, demographic, economic and technological trends affecting the future of education. One important focus: child well-being. 21st century children are in many ways safer and better protected that children from previous generations. Advances in medicine and stricter safety regulations – such as better bicycle helmets and the increased use of seat belts in cars – have led to a steady decrease in child mortality rates across OECD countries. Older, better educated parents are increasingly advocating for their children and playing an active role in their education. New technologies help parents to monitor their children’s location and well-being constantly, and in case of a problem help is just a phone call – or WhatsApp message – away.

However, at the same time as those new technologies help parents stay connected to their children, they also create new risks (for example, cyber-bullying) that can follow them from the school yard into their homes. In fact, there are signs that the modern world has created new stresses for our children that go beyond technology.

Children in the 21st century are more likely to be only children, with fewer opportunities to interact with siblings. Children and adolescents are increasingly pushed to do more by “helicopter parents”, overprotective parents who hover over their children to protect them from potential harm. Children are reporting higher levels of stress and less sleep. Free time to play is decreasing, and there are worries about the reduction of old-fashioned activities (e.g., running around outside) in favour of time spent in front of a computer screen. In addition, (and perhaps not unrelatedly), child obesity is increasing across the OECD, bringing with it a host of potential physical, social and psychological challenges.

How does the transformed nature of childhood in the 21st century affect education? How can teachers and schools work together with parents and communities to protect and guide children while still allowing them to be children, and learn by making mistakes? Schools have a responsibility to be safe places for learning, and teachers are on the front line of monitoring and ensuring their students’ well-being. Yet many countries are struggling to keep up with the changes in modern childhood and new expectations and responsibilities that have emerged.

These are tough issues for education. And child well-being is just one of the topics Trends Shaping Education 2016 covers. The same chapter also provides a snapshot of a number of other trends affecting children and families that education systems must prepare for, including:

• The rise of non-traditional families: The legalisation of same-sex marriage, for example, began in the Netherlands in 2001 and has steadily spread to almost half of the OECD countries since then. Classrooms are now increasingly likely to include students from non-traditional families – a trend that may pose challenges for some schools in ensuring that students and their families feel accepted.
• Youth poverty: The risk of income poverty has shifted over the last four decades from the elderly to the young. In the mid-1980s, young adults between the ages of 18 and 25 were only 20% more likely than the entire population to be in poverty. By 2013, young adults were 60% more likely than the entire population to be in poverty. Is education doing enough to help those most in need?

• Balancing work and family: The vast majority of OECD countries have maternal leave laws, and as of 2010, 20 OECD countries also implemented parental leave legislation (the possibility of leave for both father and mother). In a world where both parents are likely to work, what is the role of early childhood education and care in ensuring child well-being?

Want to know more? Then pick up a copy of today’s new book: the 2016 edition of Trends Shaping Education. In addition to families, other chapters examine global trends such as increasing migration and climate change, national trends on government spending in health and pensions, the key role of cities in our societies as well as technological trends. And if you really feel like testing your knowledge, try the quiz!

Trends Shaping Education 2016
Trends Shaping Education Modern Families Spotlight 
Centre for Educational Research and Innovation (CERI)
Photo Credit: Children Playing Kite Happiness Bonding Friendship Concept @Shutter Stock

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