If school is about preparation for life, what sort of life are the education systems in place preparing learners for?
For the Kenyans who have lived long enough to remember the good old days when everyone, grown-ups and children alike, looked forward to four o’clock when Kenya’s sole television station- KBC would begin its daily broadcast, this question is for you. In those days, personal taste was of no consequence and we knew exactly what to expect daily. It was on this same channel that many of us got acquainted with Henry Makobi’s mellow voice;
’Someni Vijana, Muongeze pia bidi’
‘Mwisho wa Kusoma, Mtapata kazi nzuri sana’
A good education guaranteed a great job; these jobs included, but were not limited to, law, teaching, medicine, banking, engineering. The order of importance depended on the family you came from.
The subject of jobs is currently a touchy one in our country today and it seems that the bubble has burst for many all over the world (think of the student loan crisis in the US). Regardless of your position on the map, there is another education-related issue we all have to contend with. What jobs are we preparing our children for? This 21st century girl (who may be speaking for the boys too) has declared that she is choosing her own path; “I’m living life on the edge, I choose my own path” Willow Smith coos! What path that is? We don’t know, neither does she.
According to the World Economic forum, 65% of children today will have jobs that currently don’t exist! (Read more here)
Though there exists a debate around the mysterious 21st Century job market, and the numbers vary depending on the point being made, there is a recurring statement that basically tells us, if you have a child in primary school today, he or she and at least 5 out of 10 of his/her peers will work in jobs that you cannot even begin to imagine. In the same way, Social Media Manager meant nothing over 10 years ago. This belief is backed by the disruption witnessed in the last 15 years that has been primarily fuelled by technological advancements. Think Uber, Facebook, Air bnb or just look around you. Netflix is beyond the imagination of our KBC watching days. It is important though to mention that we recall those days with fondness.
While the constantly evolving use of technological tools certainly helps, it is impossible to predict the future with detailed certainty. So how do we set up our 21st century boys and girls for success? With 21st Century Skills: simply employing the 4Cs that make these skills up practically and meaningfully.
Basic education needs to go beyond reading, writing and arithmetic and recognize that the future workplace is Creative, Collaborative, requires Critical Thinking and effective Communication.
As educators, we need to look at learning beyond technical achievement. We suspect that a future accountant will not be the cliché silent gentleman locked up in an office piled with paperwork, literally crunching numbers from dawn to dusk. He/she will be an analyst who uses his expert knowledge to ensure synergy within teams and will effectively communicate financial information in a most palatable manner.
Unfortunately for the last 250 years education systems have largely been based on the first industrial revolution; it’s time to change that. Just as the fourth industrial revolution promises to improve the quality of life, we need to improve the quality of education. Small adjustments like lessening the focus on purely scholarly activities and leveraging individual students’ talents and skills to improve overall performance is a great place to start. We need to enable learners to not simply physically present their work but articulately verbalize it too. While competition has its place, why not also encourage from an early age more collaboration, group work or shared responsibilities? Finally, encourage learners to identify problems and find solutions by dedicating time for this and giving them creative lee-way in and out of class.
These broad strategies can be applied across different schools and curricula.
Unlike the predictable 4.00 pm station-opens-era, we are watching what we want, where we want and how we want. It’s time the education sector caught up, if not for the sheer excitement that comes with it, for the sake of the 65% whom we are currently not sure about.