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Gen Z: Born to Be Digital

FILE - Students use a laptop at a school in a shantytown on the outskirts of Lima, Peru, June 8, 2012. Peru has sent more than 800,000 laptop computers children across the country, in an effort to leverage digital technology in the fight against poverty.
FILE - Students use a laptop at a school in a shantytown on the outskirts of Lima, Peru, June 8, 2012. Peru has sent more than 800,000 laptop computers children across the country, in an effort to leverage digital technology in the fight against poverty.

One in a series on Generation Z.

Smartphones. Social media. Virtual reality. Artificial intelligence.

Generation Z is the first to be born into a time when that technology existed.

Gen Zers are the first digital natives, born between 1997 and 2012, into a world of vast technological advances and innovations. They are unlike other generations, who either grew up without or came into adulthood during the rise of social media, smartphones and instant accessibility of information.

FILE - Second-grader Annabelle Davis hugs a laptop commuter to her chest during a weekly computer science lesson in Marysville, Wash., Nov. 4, 2015.
FILE - Second-grader Annabelle Davis hugs a laptop commuter to her chest during a weekly computer science lesson in Marysville, Wash., Nov. 4, 2015.

Students across the country are aware of the ways in which their childhood has been unique from their parents and grandparents. New Jersey native and American University student Emily Carnevale said that Facebook has become the key way for people to join together over ideology.

“Gen Z is one of the first groups to grow up with the formations of social media, which has altered the way we think and do everyday things. It has even become a major part of our political engagement,” Carnevale said.

They are finding the world of advanced technology and constant connectivity both helpful and hurtful.

Some students, like 19-year-old Mary Liebers of Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, said technological innovations such as YouTube and other digital tools can be beneficial in accessing information, but harmful as a distraction.

“I think (technology) has been a really good tool for doing research, and having all sorts of information at my fingertips has helped me be proactive in my learning in some ways,” Liebers said.

“I also think that social media, specifically, has taken away from my education, in that I have spent so much time on it when I could have been doing other, more beneficial things,” she added.

Technology has afforded Gen Zers different learning styles and tools. In August 2018, education publisher Pearson reported that 59% of Gen Zers preferred using YouTube, compared with 55% of millennials, the generation that preceded them. More telling is that only 47% of Gen Z said they preferred learning on paper books, compared with 60% of millennials.

Technology is not just changing education and Gen Z. Technology has increased connectivity with the outside world but also increased depression and suicide, and changed how Gen Zers perceive themselves. Earlier generations did not have technology that delivered gratification or disappointment as immediately as digital delivery of information does today.

Online and social media, for example, have opened up the world for Gen Zers, encouraging them to connect and collaborate with others around the world. But they also allow Gen Zers to shut out the outside world and live within online communities and echo chambers.

“The rapid evolution of how people communicate and interact” informs how new generations behave, said Michael Dimock, president of the Pew Research Center, in an article about defining generations.

FILE -- Sixth-grade teacher Carrie Young guides her students through an exercise on their laptops as practice for the the Common Core State Standards Test in Stockport, Ohio, Feb. 12, 2015.
FILE -- Sixth-grade teacher Carrie Young guides her students through an exercise on their laptops as practice for the the Common Core State Standards Test in Stockport, Ohio, Feb. 12, 2015.

Depression and suicide rates have increased in the past 10 years across the U.S., and in particular among America’s youth. One factor often attributed to the rise in depression and suicide rates among Gen Zers is their unique connection with technology.

According to the Center for Generational Kinetics, an Austin, Texas-based research firm, 42% of Gen Z — more than any other generation — said social media affects how other people see you. The same percentage of Gen Z also said that social media has a direct impact on how they feel about themselves.
“This new generation (Gen Z) is becoming the digital shepherd of a new era in technology adoption and reliance. Their acceptance and usage of technology is likely to be more similar to that of peers in distant countries than grandparents in their own country,” said Jason Dorsey, chief strategy officer of the center, in a study on Gen Z and technology.

“What this means to every other generation remains to be seen. But what it means to those interested in generational change is that Gen Z has assumed the millennials’ mantle of the generation to know, understand and engage,” he added.

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Australian, Chinese university chiefs meet in Adelaide

FILE - Students walk around the University of New South Wales campus in Sydney, Australia, Dec. 1, 2020.
FILE - Students walk around the University of New South Wales campus in Sydney, Australia, Dec. 1, 2020.

Australian university leaders held talks Wednesday with their Chinese counterparts over the Canberra government’s plans to cut the number of international students. Australia has said the reductions will ease the stress on housing and reduce immigration.

Representatives from the Group of Eight Universities, which represents large research-intensive institutions in Australia, met Wednesday in Adelaide with leaders from the China Education Association for International Exchange.

The Chinese delegation included senior officials from 22 leading research-intensive universities in China.

In a joint statement, the two groups said that “our research and education links not only deliver enormous economic and social benefits for both countries, but also foster enduring people-to-people ties.”

The talks focused on “constructive dialogue focused on challenges and opportunities around university research in a fast-evolving, globalized world.”

One major challenge is Australia’s plans to cap the number of international students it allows into the country to relieve pressure on housing and rental accommodation in the major cities. It is part of a broader effort to reduce immigration.

In 2023, official data showed that 787,000 international students studied in Australia, exceeding levels seen before the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, the tertiary sector says plans to shut out some foreign students would cost the economy billions of dollars.

Vicki Thompson is the chief executive of the Group of Eight Universities. She told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. Wednesday that it is unclear how far international student numbers would be cut.

“At the moment there is a lot of unknowns about what this will actually mean. We are in very good discussions with government, though. They certainly understand the impact that our international education sector has on tourism, on the economy. So, you know, they do not want to bust it either. It is just how can we come to, I guess, a compromise position where, you know, we do not damage one of our most successful export markets,” she said.

Most overseas students in Australia come from China, India, Nepal, the Philippines and Vietnam, according to government data.

Under the government’s plans, colleges and universities would have to provide purpose-built accommodation for international students if they wanted to exceed the caps on numbers.

Specific quotas for foreign students, however, have not yet been made public by the Canberra government.

Australia’s plan to curb the number of students from other countries is expected to be discussed when Chinese Premier Li Qiang meets Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese in Canberra next month.

Some shuttered universities appear to reopen on the web 

FILE - A magnifying glass is held in front of a computer screen in this picture illustration taken in Berlin, May 21, 2013.
FILE - A magnifying glass is held in front of a computer screen in this picture illustration taken in Berlin, May 21, 2013.

At least nine universities that have closed appeared to be looking for new students on the web, but the schools are neither accredited nor cleared to accept student aid.

In a USA Today investigation, Chris Quintana looks at what might be going on with the imposter websites. (May 2024)

Taliban push for normalizing male-only higher education

FILE - Taliban members are seen at Kabul University in Kabul, Afghanistan, June 14, 2023.
FILE - Taliban members are seen at Kabul University in Kabul, Afghanistan, June 14, 2023.

In coming weeks, tens of thousands of students in Afghanistan are set to sit for university entrance examinations.

Notably absent from the list of candidates will be females.

The upcoming exams are expected to determine the admission of about 70,000 students to public academic and professional institutions this year.

Last week, when officials from the Taliban's Ministry of Higher Education unveiled the specifics of the upcoming exams, they conspicuously omitted any mention of the exclusion of female students from university admissions.

Despite facing widespread domestic and international criticism for their prohibition of women from educational and professional opportunities, the Taliban have persisted in enforcing discriminatory gender policies.

“The exclusion of women from higher education significantly limits the country's economic potential, as half the population is unable to contribute effectively to the workforce,” David Roof, a professor of educational studies at Ball State University, wrote to VOA.

In December 2022, the Taliban suspended nearly 100,000 female students enrolled in both public and private universities across Afghanistan.

With the nation already grappling with some of the most dire female literacy rates globally, Afghanistan has failed to produce any female professionals over the past two years.

According to aid agencies, the absence of female medical professionals, compounded by other restrictions, has contributed to the deaths of thousands of young mothers in Afghanistan.

The United Nations reports that over 2.5 million Afghan school-age girls are deprived of education.

“The interruption in education can result in a generational setback, where entire cohorts of women remain uneducated and unqualified for professional roles,” Roof said.

'Hermit kingdom'

The elusive supreme leader of the Taliban, Hibatullah Akhundzada, purportedly responsible for the ban on women's education and employment, has never publicly clarified his directive.

Initially, when secondary schools were shuttered for girls in March 2022, Taliban officials said the action was "temporary," insisting that the Islamist leadership did not fundamentally oppose women's education.

However, more than two years later, Taliban officials have provided no rationale for the continued absence of girls from classrooms.

“They have normalized gender-apartheid,” said an Afghan women’s rights activist who did not want to be named in this article, fearing the Taliban’s persecution.

“This is a new norm in Afghanistan, however insane and destructive it may look in the rest of the world,” she added.

In January 2022, the U.S. Department of State appointed Rina Amiri as the special envoy for Afghan women, aiming to garner international backing for Afghan women's rights.

Amiri has actively engaged with Muslim leaders, emphasizing the importance of women's rights in Islam, in hopes of influencing Taliban leaders.

Despite these efforts, there has been no indication from Taliban leaders of any intention to abandon their discriminatory policies against women. “There is no indication this will subside,” Amiri told a Congressional hearing in January.

Senior U.S. officials have also warned the Taliban that there will be no normalization in their relations with the international community unless they allow women to return to work and education.

Thus far, the Taliban’s response has been that they value depriving women of basic human rights more than having normal relations with the rest of the world.

Hong Kong can help link students in US, China 

FILE - A visitor sets up his camera in the Victoria Peak area to photograph Hong Kong's skyline, Sept. 1, 2019.
FILE - A visitor sets up his camera in the Victoria Peak area to photograph Hong Kong's skyline, Sept. 1, 2019.

Pandemics, climate change and other global challenges require nations and scientists to work together, and student exchanges are a great way to foster that cooperation.

Writing in The South China Morning Post, Brian Y.S. Wong explains that Hong Kong has a crucial role to play in connecting students in the United States and China. (May 2024)

Learn about religious accommodations in US colleges  

FILE - St. Thomas More Catholic Chapel on the campus of Yale University in New Haven, Conn., March 16, 2022.
FILE - St. Thomas More Catholic Chapel on the campus of Yale University in New Haven, Conn., March 16, 2022.

From prayer services to housing options and vegetarian meal selections, colleges in the United States offer ways to accommodate students of various faiths.

In U.S. News & World Report,Anayat Durrani explains how you can learn about religious accommodations at colleges and universities. (April 2024)

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