At this time of year, the issue of education is very much in the air as students write their local and regional examinations. Last week I tried to look critically at the CPEA which has replaced the Common Entrance. I do not write because I think I have the answers, but to encourage a conversation. As a public we mouth this idea of Education Revolution but have never stopped to ask what it means. Moreover, we assume that there have been fundamental changes and that everything is fine with the system. The revolution, so-called, really means easy access from primary to secondary education. But really what is needed is a radical and pervasive shift in the colonial system that we inherited.
Since we attained independence, 40 years ago, the world with which we have to interact has changed fundamentally. Technology is at the heart of that change. The system under which many of us grew up and were educated is ill-suited for the challenges of today’s world. More than ever education incorporates a system that goes from the cradle to the grave. Changes have been so rapid that a lot of what we learn at school becomes outdated even as we leave the school gates. Very little is final. We can no longer pump ourselves with knowledge that we are prepared to regurgitate but have to develop other tools and skills. A lot of learning takes place outside the formal education system. Persons regardless of their profession or trade have to be constantly retooled because so much is changing within their field of endeavour. Critical and independent thinking become high priority. Beside changes in one’s particular field, the possibility exists of moving into unrelated fields.
Comprehension and creativity have become key elements. In a society and at a time when jobs are scarce both in the government and private sectors, entrepreneurship must be encouraged.
In our society we still think that we have to become doctors or lawyers and in more recent times, economists, and management specialists. When one looks at career days where students dress in the garb of the profession to which they aspire, the focus is usually on the established fields. One cannot blame them because this is the extent of their exposure. Many things have to be put in place at all levels. Government in their development plans have to look in say, 10- 20- year spans and determine what the job requirements are likely to be, and this should be communicated to the students so that they have a context in which they could begin to plan their future. We still see technical education as an area into which the ‘not so bright’ students go. If this was so at one time, it certainly isn’t so today because in these areas advanced skills and learning are demanded. The motor mechanic today cannot operate like those of the past. A lot is computerised, and technology is driving this area. If a child has a passion for a particular technical field parents still, try to dissuade and encourage him to go into an area that they felt was more ‘respectable’ and ‘glamorous’. Additionally, today these areas are high paying and in great demand. Our methods of teaching and the whole teaching environment have to be transformed. The ‘chalk and blackboard’ setting should become something of the past. Students have to be encouraged to develop their creativity and to become confident and independent learners and be allowed to follow their passion.
Stop looking for bragging rights by encouraging students to do a ridiculous number of courses for their examinations. There is still too much emphasis on acquiring paper qualifications and too little on providing students with the skills that will allow them to function in a world that continues to be changing at a rapid pace.
Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian