The narrative’s all wrong: there’s nothing ‘lost’ about this generation

Lots of people: Children must catch up. This is a lost generation; they have fallen behind.

Me: I disagree.

Lots of people: Why?

Me: The upskilling in the nation’s young learners has been rapid and it’s been intensive. Never before has a generation of school children had to become so proficient so quickly with technology (in our case, Microsoft Teams) in order to access their education. Digital literacy amongst Generation Z has surged: competence and confidence with digital tools – and the awareness of etiquette in the world of online communication – is – already – way, way ahead of Generation Y and its Millennials.

But above and beyond those IT skills are capabilities and skillsets that a generation of pupils will have been harnessing and honing – perhaps subconsciously – throughout this term.

  • Self-reliance. There have been no bells, no registrations, no crowds to follow. This generation of pupils has had to get themselves out of bed, laptops on, accounts logged-into, lessons accessed. And at the end of the day: charge up device, pens and pencils ready for kick-off tomorrow, worksheets and notebooks tidied and set up.
  • Self-motivation. Lessons have been live and teachers ever-present to offer motivation and instant feedback. But there has been no teacher wandering between desks encouraging and cajoling; the motivation to finish and hand-in a piece of work has been with the pupil.
  • Time-management. Teachers have a whole bunch of tricks up their sleeves to help children manage their time in class: stop watches, on-screen timers, countdowns. But with no bells, no cajoling and no in-person reminders, pupils have had to manage their own breaktimes, lunchtimes and lesson transition like no other generation.
  • Critical thinking and social intelligence. Navigating the sensitivities of others working from home is no easy task: when is it ok to interrupt Mum’s meeting to ask for help? When is it appropriate to walk into Dad’s presentation and pass on a message? When you’ve finished for the day, how do you judge the mood and stress-levels of those still going? Picking up on those social clues and learning to ‘read the room’ is a life skill that has been expedited among this generation of learners.
  • Home-life balance. My generation is bad at this. We’re about to see coming through a generation which is geared-up to a more successful intrinsic understanding of the need to blur or not blur the boundaries between work and home. The skill of turning off the laptop and switching from Headmaster to Dad, from Teacher to Step-Mum, from Classroom Member to Family Member is a really difficult one to master – and this generation of learners is already becoming adept at managing that balance. Good job, too, because blended learning and blended working are here to stay.

Far from being the ‘catch-up generation’, then, this cohort of pupils is on good footing to become a generation that is light years ahead in ways which really matter: skills, aptitudes and awarenesses that will enable them to meet head-on the challenges and joys that await them as they become the next generation of university students, of young employees, of parents, of leaders.

We’re upfront about what our main job is here at Exeter Cathedral School: to work with families to help our pupils acquire the right habits for life. Home learning hasn’t got in the way of that; it has equipped and empowered our pupils on their journey.

Lots of people: Good points. A bit wordy, with an over-reliance on hyphens – and we’re not sure ‘awarenesses’ is a word – but good points.

Me: Fair enough – and thanks. Have a good holiday.


Mr James Featherstone


26 March 2021
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