Understanding generation alpha

It is a privilege and complex process, raising and educating children. Understanding the generation of children who currently populate our primary schools is of prime importance if we are going to grow our next generation successfully. This generation, spanning 2010 to 2025, is the largest generation ever and is named Generation Alpha. They have lived the whole of their formative years in the 21st century. The iPad, iPhone and Instagram are commonplace in their lives, and they are more mobile, digitally competent, visual, and social than any generation before them. They are our future leaders and we have the responsibility to ensure that they are positioned as successfully as possible to do what they need to do.

Mark McCrindle and Ashley Fell are two of many social researchers who are leading authorities on Generation Alpha, and they provide valuable insights around this generation, and guide the adults in their world on how to best engage with the most formally educated, technologically literate, and materially endowed generation in history. They identify Generation Alpha as “a whole new generation completely”, and stress that there are some key aspects we need to understand about this generation. This article combines insights and identifies the key aspects we need to understand about our Alphas, and suggests growth pathways for primary school students, so that they can take their place in society as healthy, productive, successful individuals.

The key aspects we need to understand about this generation and important responses

  • Children model their parents. The parents of Gen Alpha are Gen Y. They move and change careers with increased frequency, are materially endowed, technologically supplied and they outsource aspects of parenting such as childcare. This impacts the Alphas as they observe and learn from their parenting model.

When mapping skills and learning pathways for this generation, educators and parents need to consider that Alphas will stay in education for longer and leave home later. Their skill development will need to accommodate the total global connection they have as a result of the technology, cultural diversity, and mobility to travel between countries they experience during childhood. The development of agility and core competencies (named below) have therefore never been more critical. Materially endowed, they also might appear entitled and consider the “range of luxurious amenities on tap” as a given. Gratitude, empathy, and perspective are areas of teaching focus alongside developing a sense of delayed gratification.

  • Generation Alpha is also named Generation Glass. They have been raised as “Screenagers“. They are characterised by app-based play, increased screen time and digital literacy, alongside shorter attention spans and less social formation as compared to the interpersonal constructs of previous generations. Defined by technological devices like smartphones and tablets, video games, autonomous vehicles, and smart speakers that speak back to you – they take up technology at a faster rate than any previous generation.

Generation Alpha is monitored carefully for screen addiction, cyberbullying, and the management of child-friendly content. Alphas have a culture of 24/7 saturation, never switch off technology. Instead of moving towards switching off technology, the trend is towards opening future opportunities for turning on apps to control the flow of technology, and solutions to make life function more efficiently and enhance or streamline connectivity as well as wellbeing. When growing this generation, the key factor is to educate them in self-regulation, device usage and content management, and how to process and pass on information in a discerning manner. It is also important to understand the isolationism and anti-social impacts of the intensity of digital immersion, and to ensure that personal development programs, inclusive of the apps and toys on offer across their life education, focus on developing increased connectivity, and the development of community, social and global skills.

  • They overlap with Generation Z and present us with a relatively new world of ‘tweendom’ because they have access to more technology, information, and external influences than any generation before. We are witnessing a phenomenon known as the ‘upageing’ (growing up faster and at a younger age) of today’s emerging generations. It is evident that physical maturity is occurring earlier, so adolescence for them will begin earlier, but beyond the physical we also observe that social and psychological, educational, and even commercial sophistication also begin earlier, which can have negative as well as positive consequences.

Literacy education for this generation must be focused on managing and responding to information across all the contexts named. It is important that children are educated earlier and more purposefully on the sophisticated content that comes their way. The greatest challenge, however, is that education about concepts historically reserved for teenagers, needs to be delivered to children aged from six to 12 years, in a manner that is adjusted to consider the incongruence between the chronologically young age of the audience and the mature nature of the ideas presented.

  • Alphas receive a more intense early education due to their increased education from their parents (and technology) at an earlier age and a more engaging, visual, multimodal and hands-on approach to education from schools. A higher rate of these students (up to 90%) will receive university qualifications which will increase the pool of highly qualified, able professionals.

It is important that Alphas recognise and develop their personal strength pathway, as it is the point of difference between them and the many highly-educated others, that will ensure their success. Additionally, the overcrowded curriculum places unrealistic demands on schools to deliver the socio-emotional, physical, spiritual, and academic curriculum required. Parents and educators need to partner in this process of learning, now more than ever, so that laneways of learning are clearly mapped out for all and the early learning into primary school learning pathway is well understood. Currently, the talk-read-connect-respect-play process between parent and child has the greatest impact on the developing brain, but a refining of the nuances of how school and home co-navigate early education requires some discussion. In addition, schools are refining the way they mine data around performance in Gen Alpha students. This ensures that the educational offering is broad but targeted, and the personalised learning pathways recognise individual strengths and develop students into the best version of themselves. The balance between technology, talk, and hands on interpersonal learning also needs to be front and centre at all times.

  • Each member of Generation Alpha will have 18 jobs across six distinct careers. They will need to be adaptive, constantly upskilling and retraining to remain relevant to the changes anticipated as they move through their working life.

As the world of work changes, it is the character qualities (or strengths such as grit or social intelligence) as well as competencies, that will futureproof Generation Alpha. These children will ultimately take up positions in the workforce not yet imagined in fields such as cyber-security, nanotechnology, autonomous transport, virtual reality and app development, and cryptocurrency. They will need to be lifelong learners, holding multiple jobs across multiple careers and will therefore need to be educated with high levels of metacognition. This means they will have the capacity to understand what they know and how they know it and how they need to progress their learning to meet a particular challenge. This will ensure that they are adaptive, constantly upskilling and retraining to remain relevant to the changes anticipated as they move through their working life. Even though they will spend longer in education, they will be wealthier due to their extended working life and lifespan based on advancements in the medical world

  • Current and future changes that have occurred in the demographics surrounding this Generation will also create different demands and industries. The increase in population and more affluent parent population opens opportunities in childcare, and the increased lifespan of humans opens opportunities in aged care.

Educating and activating Gen Alpha towards responsible, creative action in early childhood and aged care is an important dimension of social and community service education in schools. This learning space will have significant outcomes in the lives and careers of Gen Alpha, as increased demand and opportunity manifests in these domains.

  • Parents of Gen Alpha children are very concerned with wellbeing and expect the school to individualise and support each student, in addition to referring them on (where appropriate) for specialist care, to ensure they flourish.

Members of Generation Alpha have grown up with the expectation that all aspects of their lives will provide the opportunity to thrive, and they therefore have less tolerance for workplaces and organisations that hinder wellbeing. Corporations are now employing wellbeing managers and many city buildings have office concierges to meet the needs of workers. More recently, devices and apps focus on furthering human wellbeing and flourishing, and this will be even more the case for Generation Alpha, translating to their expectations of the workplace. The more skilled they are at assisting themselves and others in this area, the more effective and valuable they will be in this marketplace. This aspect of personal development is a priority as, more importantly, Generation Alpha requires coaching to develop innate resilience, and an increased repertoire of practices and processes to manage their own wellbeing. This includes a skill set that empowers them to interact with time, information, physical and emotional demands, technology, society and commerce in a regulated and well-balanced manner. It is critical that schools develop relationship-building programs so that our Alphas have the blueprint to progress themselves as individuals in secure relationships and can interact with others skilfully, and hopefully flourish.  

  • A life-skills deficit is evident to different extents across Gen Alpha. Due to the way their lives are structured, they can be socially challenged and isolated and they need to improve their competencies such as communicating and connecting in face-to-face contexts, assessing risk, progressing through challenges, managing anxiety and overcoming difficulties.

Schools are becoming increasingly committed to augmenting the explicitly taught English and maths learning areas with the offering of an additional personal toolbox to build resilience and increase a personal repertoire of strengths and interpersonal understandings. Additionally, it is essential that Alphas are gifted a set of Global Competencies or 6 Cs that will future-proof and future-prepare them. These competences include six main areas of development: computational thinking and digital skills to improve problem solving and a purposeful use of technology, creativity and critical thinking to know how to ask the right questions to deepen learning and use discoveries to create new responses to challenges, character development to increase repertoire of personal strengths and capabilities, citizenship to build student leadership and ethical behaviour and communication, which relies heavily on well-developed English and mathematics skills and an understanding of how to leverage digital to deliver messages, and using data and language.

Whilst previous generations have been influenced and impacted by technology and the changing structure of society, Generation Alpha lives a total immersion in technology and a revolutionised society. From the above, it is evident that very clear understandings have emerged about this generation who populate the corridors and classrooms of our school. It is necessary to recognise how challenging and anxiety-provoking this high speed, high tech, complex world is for them. Many age-old teaching and parenting practices that are evidence based and effective need to be retained and honed. Many schools have embraced this return to explicit teaching of the fundamentals as the necessary adjunct to open-ended inquiry and digital learning. The role of grandparents also takes on increased significance as they take on a larger caring role whilst Generation Alpha’s parents, the Gen Ys, are working more and have increased their mobility. Grandparent wisdom, talk and connectedness is all-important and is a reminder that no matter what, relationships and community are what grounds this generation. The routines, identity and familiarity of community are what will be all prominent for their future wellbeing and success and the institution of family and nurturing will be treasured as the anchor in their world.

Information swamps this generation and much of it is filled with a troubled, concerned rhetoric about an uncertain future. This is frequently at the expense of the wellbeing of our Alphas, who are all ears and sometimes ignored. Mental health and insecurities are the outcome. The time has come for parents and educators to give Generation Alpha confidence and to embrace the opportunity of the future, which is filled with increased possibility and a higher functioning streamlined world in which Alphas feel well and can do well. This feels exciting and it is indeed exhilarating to participate in the pathway of growing these future leaders. We simply need to engage with our agility, process all the information, take what is important and share this education with Generation Alpha. Hope surrounds us and with all this filtered knowledge, we are well equipped to step forward into our next brave new world.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lynda Fisher is the Head of Primary School at Moriah College in Queens Park, NSW.

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