As approved by the Board of Governors in its meeting held on the 17th April, 2023 the following Position Statement on Generation Z has been resolved to be adopted:
Gen Z is generally defined as those born from the mid-1990s to the early 2010s. Many researchers use the cutoff years of 1997 and 2012 to demarcate this social demographic, with an age range of 11-26 years of age. The internet was born before them, so they are also called “digital natives”. They live in two worlds, the real-life world and the online world, moving easily, moment to moment, from one sphere to the other. These two worlds crisscross and connect seamlessly during the course of the day.
There is a huge body of research data on Generation Z. They have been researched more than any other generation, before and after Covid. The Wikipedia entry on Gen Z has 236 references. Unlike the previous localized generations of Gen X and Gen Y, Gen Z is an international phenomenon because of social media. Across the globe, youth are instantly in touch: sharing music, fashion, ideas, mindsets and lifestyles.
Compared to previous generations, Generation Z tend to be more well-behaved, abstemious, and risk-averse. They seem to live more slowly than their predecessors when they were their age; have lower rates of teenage pregnancies; have less risky sex, and consume less alcohol. They are better at delaying gratification than their counterparts from the 1960s. They have been socially awakened by Covid, more tuned into social justice. They have moved from living in the moment to worrying about the future, and have a heightened sense of need for self-sufficiency.
They are quieter, and there is greater awareness of mental health conditions. They have been psychologically scarred by Covid, depression has increased, almost doubled from pre-Covid levels. They are feeling neglected, their problems are not solved, there is distrust of authority. In the age group 18-29 years, 60% expect vast change in the world and in their lives. Three-fourths of Indian youth feel that climate change has doomed the world. Culture, music and arts help them in coping.
Covid has brought an outpouring of frustration over disrupted education, job losses, diminished financial security, the ineptitude and inefficiency of political administrations, and the susceptibility of the older generation to conspiracy theories and science denial. They are impatient for social change, there is despondency and anger. The problems of their generation seemed to have been pushed aside.
Around the world, members of Generation Z are spending more time on electronic devices, even for learning. They have lower attention spans, vocabulary, and academic performance. More online education is acceptable, they are willing to assume more responsibility and self-efficacy in learning. But there is more focus and selectiveness: education must be perceived as useful and relevant. They are frustrated with monotony. They are more concerned than older generations with academic performance and job prospects, and are willing to invest in education. Data shows that the negative effects of screen time are most pronounced in adolescents and young children (Gen Alpha), not among Gen Z.
Gen Z: a redefinition of their role as students
The word ‘student’ has some negative connotations. First of all, it creates hierarchy and separateness between students and teachers. Secondly, it denotes a scholar, precluding other dimensions of identity and need. They are also customers, clients, even patients (because many may suffer from lack of psychological and social well-being, or have learning disabilities like dyslexia or autism spectrum disorder, conditions that may last into adulthood). Thirdly, and most importantly they are human beings, entitled to rights, equality and democratic processes.
In one sense, students who pay fees are the customers of education. Their satisfaction and delight should be the key elements of customer focus. Student surveys show that many are not satisfied with the present system of education. The feedback from MLCU students and recent graduates have given us fair warning. Strong messages are coming through. As educationists and academicians, we have to dispossess ourselves of uninformed suppositions and superficial stereotypes about our students.
A thorough understanding of Gen Z is needed for all teachers so that we can ascertain the optimal curriculum, pedagogy and goals of learning that will enable them to survive and thrive in the new world. Current awareness of Gen Z seems to be low among teachers. We have to be educated on Gen Z career aspirations, psychological traits, learning styles, and responsibility for self-learning.
Perhaps we should regard them as learners or better still, as co-learners.
Uncertain, worried, but idealistic
Economists, sociologists, futurists, and other world-watchers warn us that constant change, instability and uncertainty are the only sure variables of the future. There will be no return to ‘normal’. Pandemics, wars, famines, floods, environmental degradation and wayward politics is the fate of the planet. The older generation has bequeathed this legacy.
No wonder that the youth of today are bewildered at the state of the planet. As they try to meander meaningfully through their travails, they see little reason for hope. Unemployment, financial struggle, and dysfunctional relationships are all around them. They distract and entertain themselves with music, food and fashion. At times, they shut off the real-world, closeting themselves in social media, and are vilified for isolating themselves. It’s a no-win situation.
Drowned in Delusions
I see you floating down the river, Your dress billowing along with your hair.
But instead of chasing you down, I just stop and stare.
“Why?” I ask myself. I know why; I’ve always known why.
And at that moment, I was afraid.
Afraid for you, afraid for me. Afraid of the myriad words left unsaid
…When I see you being taken by the water. Swept out of my reach,
Out of breath. Right into the doorsteps of Death.
I reach out, and faintly I hear My lover’s cries for help.
“He’s drowning, my Theo is drowning!”
But your voice grows distant, When I’m transfixed by Death’s loving gaze;
I utter my prayers for one last time,
-Theo, Shillong Times, Jan 15, 2023
Ethics and morals
Yet, they seem to have a code of values and a creed of ideals, that provide a compass for navigating this confusing world. Disrespect for authority may not be considered as a serious moral violation, especially when seen in social and cultural contexts, and if no harm is caused. Moral foundations are based on factors like “physical and emotional harm, justice, fairness, reciprocity, respect for authority, personal autonomy, ingroup loyalty, purity, and sanctity, for example, reverence for divinity and the supernatural” (Bretlis, 2023).
Moral formation has evolutionary and developmental roots. Psychology students study Kohlberg’s theory of moral development. According to Kohlberg, by their age, Gen Z youth would have a sense of conscience, humanitarian concerns and moral values. At the same time Gen Z is the least religious generation in the USA. In one study, one-third of American youth said they have no religion. In the UK, according to census data, almost two-thirds of those under-40 have declared “no religion”.
Given these various dimensions of Gen Z, they need and deserve understanding and affirmation. The university is not only a place for learning, growth and development, but also a harbour from a tempestuous environment. If we can provide them with optimal ideal skills, attitudes and lifestyles, they will become the ideal leaders for the next generation.
The CIM Report makes a telling commentary and some recommendations:
Students are the major internal customers of MLCU. Their satisfaction and delight are the key elements of customer focus. Student satisfaction surveys may be conducted periodically, at least once in 6 months and follow up actions may be initiated. What type of education does Gen Z want, in what format and what time frame are to be analyzed and fulfilled. This has to be done for all UG, PG and Ph.D. program students. A thorough understanding of Gen Z is needed for all faculty members. Current awareness seems to be low, and they may have to be educated on Gen Z psychological traits, learning styles, etc.
Maddie Thomas (2022). I’m a Gen Z but I want all that millennials want too – so don’t pigeonhole me. The Guardian, 2 Jul 2022. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2022/jul/03/im-a-gen-z-but-i-want-all-that-millennials-want-too-so-dont-pigeonhole-me
Brandon Bretlis (2023). Adolescence is a ‘use it or lose it’ time for moral development. Cognitive Development. https://psyche.co/ideas/adolescence-is-a-use-it-or-lose-it-time-for-moral-development?utm_source=Psyche+Magazine&utm_campaign=f8374481c3MAIL_CAMPAIGN_2023_02_13_07_43&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_-f8374481c3-%5BLIST_EMAIL_ID%5D
PsyLog (2022). Moral development according to Kohlberg six stages theory. https://thepsylog.com/psychology/moral-development/
Katherine Butler and Caroline Bannock (2021). A sacrificed generation: psychological scars of Covid on young may have lasting impact. The Guardian, 2 Jun 2021.
Christel J. Manning (2019). Gen Z is the Least Religious Generation. Here’s Why That Could Be a Good Thing. Pacific Standard, Stanford University Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences.
Robert Booth and Michael Goodier (2023). Census data suggests UK faces ‘non-religious future’, say campaigners. Under-40s in England and Wales more likely to declare ‘no religion’ than Christianity for first time. There are now 9.8 million Christians aged under 40, but 13.6 million people with no religion. The Guardian, 30 Jan 2023.