Supporting Young Voices & Emerging Leaders in the Digital Age – How Teachers Can Play a Role

Co-written by Auzellea Kristin Mozihim (Co-founder of Edufication) and Cynthia C. James (Co-founder of Going Digital ELT). 

HOTS and shaping future leaders

As the #MakeSchoolASaferPlace movement has garnered national attention, the person behind the movement, Ain Husniza, the 17-year-old activist, has mentioned about some teachers undermining her response to call out on a teacher for making rape jokes during a physical education class despite having been taught about HOTS (Higher Order Thinking Skills) during classroom lessons. This comes to a point where teachers should realize and reflect on the real world implications of applying HOTS and how it will produce future leaders and critical thinkers such as Ain herself. But first, it is imperative for us to understand what HOTS is and why it has been implemented in our education system. 

Malaysia’s performance in PISA 2009 has been an admonition for Malaysia to review its education system because Malaysia was ranked in the bottom third out of all the participating countries in the world. It indicated that Malaysian students were weak in problem solving and higher order thinking skills. Therefore, from October 2011 to December 2012, Malaysia Ministry of Education to peruse and review the existing education system to transform Malaysian education. The outcome of the review was that the ministry has launched the Malaysia Education Blueprint (Preschool to Post-Secondary Education) (2013-2025). In the MEB, emphasis has been given to 21st Century Learning skills, higher order thinking skills and character building instead of merely stressing  on the students’ academic achievements [1].

Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) is one of the elements of the 21st century learning skills, it emphasizes the development of critical and creative thinking skills. Critical thinking skill helps an individual to solve problems, whereas, creative thinking skill helps an individual to generate novel and authentic ideas alongside to be able to think unconventionally. In the Revised Bloom’s Taxonomy, there are six levels of cognitive processes. The lowest three levels, which are also known as Lower Order Thinking Skills (LOTS) comprises of remembering, understanding and applying. Meanwhile, the highest three levels, which are also known as Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) consist of analysing, evaluating and creating [2].

The #MakeSchoolASaferPlace movement initiated by Ain is the outcome of HOTS application in the world, integrated with digital technology to propel the movement. 21st century teachers therefore are expected to have a good grasp of the 21st century learners’ attachment with technology and what they do with it in their learning process [3], both inside and outside of the classroom setting. 

Young Voices in the Digital Age

If the impetus for the incorporations of HOTs in the national curriculum is to produce future thought leaders, then the emergence of young activists like Ain should be a welcomed phenomenon [4].  It should also be noted that before digital technology rises to its current ubiquity, young people with similar levels of maturity, precocity, and courage might find it challenging to achieve the impact that Ain is able to achieve through her #MakeSchoolASaferPlace movement. 

UNICEF in its 2020 report on Digital Civic Engagement by Young People affirms that youth nowadays are utilising digital spaces “to develop their civic identities and express political stances in creative ways” [5]. They use platforms such as YouTube, SnapChat, and TikTok – just to name a few – as channels for self expression and to broadcast standpoints on issues that affect them. Many of these youth-created contents have generated substantial followings and even manage to cause waves at global scales. To cite just one example, in 2020 a YouTube vlog of 18-year-old Veveonah Mosibin taking her online examination on a makeshift treehouse in search of better Internet connectivity has attracted the attention of international media [6]. Though it was not originated as an intentional fight for a specific cause like in the case of Ain, Veveonah’s story has highlighted how the pandemic amplifies the reality of digital divide in rural communities, All these public exposures, however, do not come risk-free. Both Ain and Veveonah ended up being targets of abusive comments, lewd jokes, and trolling simply because they chose to be courageous and relentless, 

UNICEF points out that the young people’s peers are not the only culprits when it comes to cyberbullying. From the report: “Youth activists are often victims of harassment by adults or bots created by adults” (emphasis ours) [7]. Within the cyberspace occupied by Netizens hiding behind the anonymity of avatars and the ‘safety’ of computer screens, children and teenagers are not exempt to hate, vitriol, and ad hominem attacks.

How Teachers Can Help

Teachers should encourage young people to fight for causes that matter to them, and to give guidance on how to make use of digital tools at their disposal. Yet digital literacy alone is not enough. What is more important is to equip students with the knowledge of digital citizenship. Students need to be prepared for the risks and reality of engaging with cyberspace communities, and the mental and emotional pressures that come with digital civic engagements. 

Teachers need to be by the students’ sides when they are embarking upon fights for social causes, digitally or otherwise. As much as possible, teachers should try to be the ‘go-to’ person that the students can rely on when they are stumped, to provide a safe space for students to vent out when things go wrong. We like to have faith in young people’s ability to think for themselves, but it is a cruel world out there. Students should have access to trusted adults who can mentor, guide, and offer advice when they need it.

Most importantly, teachers should strive to be exemplary role models. Instead of being trolls and sources of abusive comments, teachers, – of all people – should be the stellar digital citizens that students can look up to and emulate. 

[1] & [2] The Implementation of Higher Order Thinking Skills (Hots) in Malaysia Secondary School: Post PISA 2009 Fatin Nabilah Abu Hassan*, Quwwatun ‘Aqilah Mohamad, Nurul Atika Mohd Rosli, Muhammad Talhah Ajmain@Jima’ain and Siti Khadijah Yusof Azuddin

[3] D. Considine, J. Horton, and G. Moorman, “Teaching and reaching the millennium generation through media literacy,” Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, vol. 52, pp. 471-481, March 2009

[4] S. Indramalar (12 May 2021). Ain: ‘I’m just an ordinary girl speaking up for what I know is right.’ The Star.

[5] & [7] Cho, Alexander; Jasmina Byrne, & Zoe Pelter (February 2020). Digital civic engagement by young people. UNICEF Office of Global Insight and Policy.

[6] BBC News (18 June 2020). Malaysian student sits exams in a tree to ensure good wifi.

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