FEW would argue that our education system – from basic to tertiary – is not performing for us in the way we would want it to, namely to usher into the world, young people who are equipped as well as possible for the challenges that lie ahead of them in the adult world. Not only to make a decent living but to be fine, upstanding citizens who enjoy what they do and contribute to our economic life and the greater good of society in the process. But again, the system as it is, is largely inherited from an unjust era, and we’ve tried various largely ad hoc approaches which haven’t brought about the desired solutions. The state of education remains in the doldrums. Pre-primary schooling has come and gone and come again but without consistent application throughout the regions and the urban-rural divide has been exacerbated. The result: some children are better prepared than others who are wrong-footed from the very start and have small hope of competing against others from more privileged backgrounds with superior access. Take these same children through to tertiary level and the same inequalities remain largely in place. To prevent high failure rates at that level, we then lower standards to accommodate ones who would ordinarily be left behind, and we don’t do anyone any favours in the process. (And despite frequent denials to the contrary from most tertiary institutions, we know this happens). These young people then go out into the cold, hard world with high expectations and papers that say ‘degree’ or ‘diploma’ and we all know what happens then. The top few may excel; those with higher grades may manage to get work, but the lower levels walk the streets and/or fail if they manage to get jobs which they often aren’t competent or able to handle. All of which has a severe knock-on effect on our economy as fewer and fewer people in the workplace can truly compete.
So among a myriad of ‘solutions’ is a massive educational conference which brings together hundreds of experts and educationalists and others all proposing what they see as the answer to our dilemma, and with heads swirling from information overload, we get stuck in the mud once again and fail to move from the advice to implementation stage. Back to square one. The problems persist.
The answers to most of our systemic failures, like education, probably lie in simplicity rather than complex arrangements and endless ‘recommendations’ that will not and cannot be put into practice. Unfortunately the response is inevitably to ‘create more universities’, to focus on the end, rather than beginning stages of education; and increasingly to give youth the impression there’s no success without a university degree. It’s a lie. I’ve said before and will say again that each individual has his or her own talents, capabilities and competencies, and we cannot expect our country to succeed by forcing as many of our youth as possible through the university system, and I revert to what I said earlier that many will fail to make the grade.
We have to start with the basics of the pre-school environment. Were it always possible, with the family as well, where young kids need to be introduced to reading and writing skills at the earliest age, and provided with libraries and training in internet/mobile access as they move into formal schooling. Literacy decreased in the US when television was introduced, and we cannot afford a drop in our Iiteracy rates as our people gain greater access to internet and mobile technologies that they may not understand or grasp. It’s a minefield out there for the undiscerning.
I don’t claim to have all the solutions, but I think there are some simple things we can start with. And we need to begin at the beginning and not at the end. Working more closely with youth as they develop will also ensure they find their metier early on and develop purposefully in one or other direction in which they can succeed in life. What we are doing right now is actually disempowering youth by our insistence on purely academic pursuits. Society’s leadership needs to give as much credence to vocational and other pursuits based on individual abilities. Some are good at languages; others at maths; others are artists and/or work with their hands ... all are necessary to build a prosperous and successful nation. It is our role and duty to help, rather than inhibit and hinder the youth, to do this and succeed at all levels.
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