How to motivate students to learn in the digital era?

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How to motivate students to learn in the digital era? Girls studying together in front of a TV during pandemic times in Lima, Peru. ©Victor Idrogo / World Bank.

In the digital era, motivating students to learn has become an increasingly complex challenge for educators. With the ubiquity of social media, mobile devices, and bite-sized content competing for students' attention, teachers must find innovative ways to engage their pupils in meaningful, deep learning experiences.

To effectively address this issue, it is crucial to tap into the grassroots perspectives of teachers on the front lines of education, grappling with these challenges in real classrooms every day. By leveraging the insights and experiences of educators who have successfully adapted to the digital landscape, we can identify and implement practical solutions that will captivate students' interest and foster a genuine passion for learning in the 21st century.

We agree with Luis Benveniste, Global Director for Education at the World Bank, that we need to put teachers at the center of policymaking for student success. To improve teaching and learning, our new report Making Teacher Policy Work, emphasizes the importance of identifying and addressing the barriers that teachers may face when new policies are implemented. 

Understanding these barriers and how teachers experience them is crucial for determining any policy's success or failure. We partnered with the Varkey Foundation to hear from teachers in Peru, Chile, and Ecuador about their pedagogy to motivate students to read and learn in a digital era. Here are the four key findings.

    1. Making learning fun

Karen uses interactive games and art to ensure her students love coming to school each day while enforcing high expectations. Karen also incentivizes families to actively participate in their children’s education using regular, timely communications.  

Mario argues that the best way to engage her students with science is through hands-on experiments. In his classroom, students don’t just read about scientific concepts in textbooks; they actively investigate them. Mario brings science to life and nurtures her students’ innate curiosity about the natural world around them. His students look forward to attending science class because they know it will be filled with fascinating discoveries rather than just rote memorization.

   2. Building a personalized educational experience

In her video, Lucila Johana Suárez Santillán focuses on understanding each child’s background, strengths, and challenges to personalize instruction as much as possible within limited resources. She sees teaching as an adventure, both for herself and her students. She knows that no two students are the same, so she draws upon a wealth of creative ideas to spark each child’s curiosity and engagement. 

    3. Creating a safe space to learn

Daniel is a fierce advocate for his students. At Mr. Bernales’ classroom, students know they are in a judgment-free zone where they can take risks, voice opinions, and be their authentic selves. Daniel firmly believes in “success through unity,” with all members uplifting and learning from one another. 

Mónica discusses that nurturing his students’ socio-emotional development is just as essential as teaching academic content. For Monica, equipping students with emotional intelligence, resilience, and relationship skills is imperative for their overall well-being and success. Her integrated approach cultivates both compassionate human beings and dedicated lifelong learners.

   4. Partnering with families and communities  

Teachers also emphasized that they need the support and collaboration of families and other key stakeholders. The active participation of parents and the educational community is crucial to getting students interested and engaged in their learning. 

When parents get involved in their children’s education, they reinforce the importance of learning, provide emotional and practical support, and help create an environment conducive to studying. Moreover, a strong and committed educational community can offer additional resources, enriching experiences, and positive role models that inspire students to pursue their passions and reach their full potential. By working together, teachers, parents, and the community can create a comprehensive educational ecosystem that motivates young people to learn enthusiastically and develop the skills needed to thrive in today’s digital world.

Teachers are the heartbeat of the learning process, providing insight that statistics or policy briefs cannot capture alone. They understand firsthand the on-the-ground challenges and realities facing students, schools, and education systems.  

If countries are serious about improving outcomes for both teachers and students, then teacher voices must be at the forefront of policy decisions. Listening to those directly shaping young minds will allow us to develop supportive working environments, impactful training, and solutions that translate from policy papers into actualized practices. 

Giving teachers seats at key tables will empower these change agents to lead classrooms better and activate meaningful transformations across educational institutions. The ideas exchanged here must enter the halls of government if we hope to enact the inclusive, forward-thinking education environments that learners deserve.

Maria Laura Sanchez Puerta

Human Development Lead Economist and Program Leader for the Andean countries

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