Monday, November 17, 2014


This is exam season. Not only the big ones -- primary, O- and A-level leaving exams but also the end-of-year exams for all the classes in between.

They follow the same format as some of us did and our parents before us. The exams consist of a test on a given subject, to be done within a certain period, with pen on paper. The major change that has come over the last two decades is that in Math and Science papers the students can use calculators.

There has been a bit of tweaking of the curriculum to make this or that subject compulsory, to add a subject here and there, but the essence of the exam, which is to test rote knowledge, has stayed largely unchanged.

That is a problem because our education system was designed for the industrial age. In the industrial age the work is regimented, monotonous and calls for little to no creativity.

It is unlikely that when our kids finally get out into the world they will be facing the challenges for which this education system was set up.

In the brave new world, which is forcing itself on us, while in depth knowledge will still remain essential what will set one person apart from the rest will be their ability to make connections between seemingly unrelated fields, to innovate.

In the world that is fast becoming obsolete, one can get away with left brain thinking, which is rule bound and linear as opposed to right brain thinking, which is more artistic, lateral, empathetic and narrative.

In the workplace of the future it will not be a question of either/or, but one will have to be both a right and left brain operator.

It is already happening.

One reason Israel is the most innovative country per capita in the world according to authors Dan Senor and Saul Singer’sr book “Start Up Nation”, is because of the breadth and width of experience the average Israeli goes through by the time they hit adulthood. From their living conditions to their experience in the army to the encouragement by the society and environment to explore new avenues of doing things to taking initiative while solving challenges in a group setting.

There was a period when the generalist was king. The urban gentlemen of the Victorian age who had a working knowledge of law, medicine and engineering and a healthy appreciation for the arts. The industrial age shoved them aside and encouraged specialists. But now more than ever when innovation is going to be the differentiator the generalists are making a comeback.

The question then is how do our school systems need to be adapting to meet the needs of the future? Especially because they are already falling behind the demands of the workplace.

In a 2008 interview Thomas Friedman, journalist and decipher of modern trends, suggested that the competition on the future is not going to between economies or even companies but between individuals and their imaginations. That, will individuals be able to achieve what they can conceive.

So the countries and institutions that will be able to nurture imagination and allow it to actualise will be the winners.

Out of necessity the role of the school has to change. In times when information was scarce the schools were the repositories of information but now with embarrassing abundance of information the school’s role changes to one of bringing meaning to all this information and more importantly helping kids learn how to navigate and filter the widely available information.

"Essentially instead of imparting knowledge or teaching, more emphasis will be placed on learning how to learn. Which makes sense because in a fast evolving world you can’t stop learning after you leave school. The cliché learning is a continuous process will come alive...

But even more critical is that students will have to make the connections between all the subjects. While previously you learnt English, Math and history as distinct disciplines now students will be required to make connections.

So A-level combinations like Physics, Luganda and Islamics or Literature, Chemistry and Art will stop being the subject of great laughter.

Depth of knowledge will still be essential and even critical, but the worker of tomorrow will be called upon to solve problems outside his comfort zone and their ability to find the information or collaborate better with those who do, will be the more important skill.

But the even more important ingredient for our children, in ensuring that they become successful adults in whatever they set out to do, will be good parenting.

Unfortunately schools now shoulder the burden of feeding, character formation and providing role models for our children as parents’ power to work to afford the increasing fees and demands.
 In fact a Gallup poll released recently showed that the more successful people in the workplace had a teacher to not only look up to, but who also believed in the kid as an individual.

In the era of universal education teachers are going to be less likely to pay individual attention to individual students, the workers of the future will be mediocre to lousy unless the parents retake their rightful roles.

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