By Shingirayi Kondongwe CONTRIBUTOR (Opinions expressed by YOH contributors are their own.)
What we call education today is the major source of youth empowerment and the world at large. At one time Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which can be used to change the world”. The question is who invented the modern school system or standardized education and why? In order to understand this question, it is necessary to first define ‘education’ itself. What is education? There is no absolute definition of education because there are many theories and sources that attributes to its meaning. Education is simply a process of teaching and learning to improve knowledge. The word education was derived from Latin words ‘ex’ meaning out of and ‘ducere’ meaning to lead. A mixed combination of ‘ex’ and ‘ducere’ forms the term ‘educere’ which had the root sense of ‘to bring up or rear a child’. Traditional philosophers such as Plato regards education as a means to achieve individual justice and social justice. Whereas, Socrates believes that education is to produce a virtues man. For Aristotle, education aims at the development of body, mind and soul. A deeper understanding of education, as a concept is very important. It is the backbone of civilization and development.
Nevertheless, the current standardized education system, also known as modern education in Africa and the world at large is now outdated. It was created about 150 to 200 years ago in the western world as an offshoot of industrialization. As Albert Einstein said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them”. Here is why:
- The system is too old– The system whereby we got teachers or lecturers standing in front of students lecturing and they have done the same lecture 20 or 50 years in a row has taken away the confidence in most students. The fact that our school model has not changed much after 200 years is a huge problem that deserves urgent attention.
- The education system demotivates innovative ideas– The obsolete contents of the current education system disrupts innovation. The argument is that, the current education system offers few or no incentives to change practice, or that educators resist change. This industrial age mentality of mass production and mass control still runs deep in schools. Students are being taught by merely following instructions without much of their thinking. Instead, the education system reward students for replicating what they are told and not what they have invented. In the 21st century which values people who are creative and can communicate their ideas, how far can students get by merely following instructions? Students cannot get a chance to develop such innovative and creative skills in a system based on industrial values.
- Lack of hands-on learning (practical skills)– Students spend most of their time in the classroom focusing more on theory rather than practical learning. Even the current President of the United States Mr. Donald Trump complained that students are coming out of best schools without the required practical experience and there are too many case studies. Due to lack of hands-on learning skills in our education system, most students are just graduating without any sufficient knowledge of what they are going to do. For example, a student can learn a three-year university degree and graduate without real-world skills. The challenge is ‘how well is this type of education preparing students to solve more realistic problems that are open-minded?
- The structure of the education system instills ‘fear’ rather than ‘confidence’– Students are afraid of their teachers that most often they hide their faces to try not to be called upon according to popular American motivational speaker by the name Prince Ea. Some are afraid to raise their hands because they fear to be wrong and be labelled as failures. These factors prove that the current education system is no longer a favorable environment for building confidence and bringing the best out of students. Students are told that if they do not get A grades they will not make it in life. Those students who cannot get A grades are labelled as failures in life even though they may have some special talents and abilities. This confirms Albert Einstein’s words that “Everybody is a genius, but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid”.
- More graduates, fewer jobs– It is not a secret that any economic system that exists whether capitalism or socialism is failing to create enough jobs as the population continues to increase, especially the youths which constitute about 42% of the world population. Going back to the 1960s and 1970s, a college degree could guarantee a decent career, a decent salary, a guaranteed pension and good lifestyle. Yet, today a college degree unlike in previous decades no longer offers a probability of attaining a career. Why are so many graduates and youths unemployed? This question represents one of the greatest challenges of the 21st century. There is also a wide belief that the youths of this generation popularly known as millennials are too lazy and entitled. That is not fair considering that in the times of old, attaining education was not competitive and there was no automation to replace people’s jobs. Youths of today are only given one option in life, that is, “go to school, get a degree and then you can get a job”.
RETHINKING EDUCATION: TIME FOR A NEW APPROACH TO EDUCATION
There is little connection between the current world challenges especially unemployment, with what students are being taught. Today’s challenges are unique and require new ideas, innovations and values. Most students are not appropriately trained to meet the demands of the current globalized world. A survey by Mckinsey Center for Government in 2012 revealed that, “hardly 25% of engineering graduates and 40% science and math graduates are employable and the condition of other courses is even worse”.
Moving Africa and the world forward requires a shift of mind-set as youths. Our teachers must be encouraged to show students creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship. The standardized type of learning in which students memorize to succeed is no longer suitable in the digital era characterized by Industry 4.0, dominated by Artificial Intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT), Machine Learning and Augmented Reality (AR). Education should be aligned with the new drivers of the emerging economy and this can only be possible through a major shift in education policy-making.
Education must align to the needs of the modern industry- It is now imperative to align education with modern industrial needs and developing industry-specific curricula that prepare students for current and future job market.
Restructure and re-invent the education system- There is an urgent need for educational restructuring to equip students with relevant skills in Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI), Big Data, Augmented Reality (AR), Robotics just to mention a few. Industry 4.0 is the new game changer that will dominate the world for the next coming decades.
Entrepreneurship education must be made compulsory- Entrepreneurship will turn graduates and youths into job creators rather than job seekers. This will create more jobs, improve standards of living and promote poverty alleviation. There is also need for more funding through youth entrepreneurial competitions. Both the private sector and public sector should put their support in this noble endeavour.
Advancement of practical based education (hands-on learning)- Theoretical education should go hand-in-hand with practical-based education. Practical education sometimes referred to as hands-on learning can simply be defined as learning by doing. For example, a Mechanical Engineering student should learn by fixing the gearbox in reality rather than sitting in a classroom for four years without gaining much needed practical skills. Likewise, a Political Science student should also learn by going to parliamentary debates, visiting think tanks, writing reports and participating in the processes in order to gain real hands-on experience.
Teachers should go for industrial attachment related to their areas of specialization– A teacher or lecturer cannot just teach what they have taken from a textbook, but it should be based more on their real-experience in the world of work. In this way, teachers and lecturers will be able to impart real-world knowledge to students and not just theorize. They will be able to task students with real-life assignments that are current and this will produce effective solutions to challenges.
For these and for other reasons it is clear that the current education system must be revolutionized in order to make it relevant to the demands of the 21st century. Most importantly, the urgency for skills to cope up with the fourth industrial revolution (Industry 4.0) is needed from early age development, the youth, and the old age as well. What is required is a strong political will from top government officials and decision-makers. In addition, more advocacy campaigns by civil society to improve the quality of education must be encouraged because the power to shape the future that we want to see rest upon us.
SHINGIRAYI KONDONGWE is an African Union Scholar, United Nations Graduate Programme Fellow, and A Tony Elumelu Foundation Entrepreneur. He writes in his capacity and does not represent the views of any organization. He can be contacted at the following email: firstname.lastname@example.org