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Catholic Education for Generation Z

November 3rd, 2017

Sources say that those born between 1995 and 2006 belong to Generation Z; others claim that it’s 1995 to 2016. Today, these individuals are our learners, students who belong to the age group of 1 to 22. How does their generation differ from other generations? And more importantly, how do we best approach teaching these children the Catholic faith?

Understanding Generation Z

In A Tsunami of Learners Called Generation Z, Dr. Darla Rothman said that some research have shown that the brains of Generation Z are structurally different from those of earlier generations. It has nothing to do with genetics and everything to do with how the brain responds to the environment. The brain of the Generation Z child is wired to sophisticated, complex, and visual imagery because the part of his brain that is responsible for visual ability is far more developed.

Here are other things we’ve established about the Generation Z at this point:

  • They prefer visual learning to auditory learning.
  • They like interactive games, collaborative projects, and other activities that they can actually experience.
  • Considering their exposure to Twitter and Facebook, their brain is programmed to expect information to be delivered in short, rapid bursts.

If you complain about short attention span, brace yourself because this generation has an even more limited attention span than previous generations. The continued interactions with a fast-paced, sensory-laden, multimedia environment predispose and influence the Generation Z brain to a shorter attention span. In the classroom, this means that the average attention span is only seven to ten minutes.

21st Century Catholic Education

Taking on the responsibility of imparting the Catholic faith on Generation Z is as daunting as it sounds, but this endeavor is a significant part of our duties as educators for the Church. To understand fully how we can shape the lives of our young learners into meaningful ones shared with Christ, we need to understand and take into consideration the value of two things—learner development and learning environment.

Learner Development

To understand how we, educators, can develop our students into responsible members of the community with formidable faith, we need to reflect on the following questions:

  • Is our curriculum aligned with the school’s philosophy, vision, mission, goals, and core values? Is the vertical articulation of curriculum across all learning areas and grade levels clear?
  • Does the curriculum clearly articulate a well-balanced development of the physical, spiritual, intellectual, psychosocial, cultural, and creative dimensions of learners? Are programs relevant to address the learners’ needs, interests, and potentials? Do learners recognize the ways their talents, interests, and potentials are developed through curricular and co-curricular programs?
  • Does the curriculum in different learning areas and grade levels engage learners to discern and integrate Gospel values that are relevant to the concerns for peace and justice, care for creation, love for one’s country, gender sensitivity, and responsible use of all forms of media? Do learners participate in service-oriented activities and advocacies appropriate to their age and level of maturity?
  • Does the curriculum provide a variety of cognitively demanding and developmentally appropriate programs and activities that integrate moral and religious formation in all learning areas and grade levels? Do learners apply higher-order thinking skills in familiar situation in the practice of their faith and relationship with God?
  • Does our religious education program integrate faith and Filipino culture and life with emphasis on the development of enduring values? Does the program develop appropriate expressions of faith? Are learners able to discern positive values?
  • Does the curriculum adhere to national standards, aspire to international benchmarks, and promote 21st century education and lifelong learning? Do learners apply knowledge in different situations and assume their role according to their Christian identity and mission in the global community?
  • Is instruction supported by an information and communications technology (ICT) plan to address the demands and challenges of the changing times? Do school policies and practices facilitate an effective approach to the use of ICT to support contemporary student learning?

Learning Environment

Guiding the Generation Z in their journey to faith formation is not just a matter of designing the best curriculum; it’s equally a matter of creating the perfect learning environment for young students who prefer the actual experience of their lessons. How do we know if our schools are the best learning environments for fostering the Catholic faith? Reflect on these questions:

  • Does the school provide a regular program for the observance of varied Church feasts, devotions, and religious traditions? Does the school conduct regular programs that enable the community to reflect on and renew their commitment to instructional goals and values?
  • Are the signs and symbols related to Catholic Christian faith and the school’s vision and mission evident around the campus?  Are these signs and symbols aligned with the school’s identity, vision, mission, and faith life?
  • Do the students’ discussion about these signs and symbols show clarity regarding the value of these signs and symbols to the school’s identity, vision and mission, and for one’s faith?
  • Are venues and times for prayer and worship accessible, clearly indicated, and well-maintained? Are the prayer space conducive to a personal encounter with God? Do members of the school community regularly use and show respect for designated sacred spaces?

If your answer to most of these questions are yes, congratulations! Your Generation Z learners are experiencing good Catholic education. If you answered no to some of the items, however, don’t be discouraged. There is still so much that can be done to ensure that high-quality Catholic education is something that everyone can have even for generations to come.

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The writer, Suzette D. Aliño, is the former Headmaster and is the current Vice President for Planning and Quality Assurance of Ateneo de Davao Grade School.