Educating with a goal

By Frank-Jürgen Richter

Khaleej Times, May 21, 2012

It has become popular these days to lament on the global malaise of our young. “They are poorly educated” so say business people, who state they are illiterate and are innumerate.

They further exclaim they cannot be primary educators (that´s the job of schools…) but they are willing to offer niche programmes to teach new employees details of their new business. In other words, they would offer on-the-job training. To me this is fair – the state being responsible for the years of formative education and firms would add very specific skills. But it is not working out this way in these times of global recession and austerity programmes. Of course, in countries enduring austerity there are few firms hiring anyone but it is their young who seem disproportionately disenfranchised.

Not too long ago, in 2000, the newly elected UK Labour prime minister Tony Blair proclaimed his government´s intent – “Education, Education, Education!” At about the same time in the United States (in 2001) George Bush announced the “No child left behind Act”. There are too many NEETs (Not in employment, full-time education or training) across the globe: USA, Russia, all of Europe, Japan; and the Arab states have worried for a while about the increasing numbers their youth that are not appropriately educated for the modern world.

Education has always been the province of the elite. In China one had to study the Confucian Analects in order to pass the Imperial examinations to work closer to the Emperor (… so no change there it seems!) Roger Ascham, a teacher of Queen Elizabeth I, complained around about 1550 that teachers only received about 200 shillings a year, whereas a good groom caring for the master´s horses could get 200 crowns per year (just like our well-paid football stars: nothing changes!)

And echoing this dreadful situation in modern times it is found that many teachers in the back-woods of poor countries do not possess relevant nor adequate knowledge to educate their pupils – and in some of these States the children are being given cheap laptops to enhance their education. How will they be taught I wonder?

I have opined elsewhere that teaching curricular must change. Once schooling was for the elite and the students were instructed to a `copy this, learn it and recite it back to me´… then after it was “OK – you have passed”. Those were simple examinations by the professors, which ensured all teachers remained in the elite cadre. But that regime, which continuing even today, fits no one for the modern world. I have argued that it would be better to give all children the basics of reading writing and arithmetic and in addition taught to be able to critically assess new situations, new data.

Under this revised teaching regime the young people will be able to review any new situation, and having analysed will be able to synthesise and communicate their views. This new curricular is inadequately promoted globally at present. There are still too many regimes that demand the submission of their pupils to accept false learning that will promote bias and distrust when confronted by others bearing different learning.

The Economist on April 21st, 2012 presented their views of a Third Industrial Revolution. The first herded cottage workers into the 18th century factories, the second was the age of mass production in the 20th century – but now they proclaim that manufacturing is `going digital´. In this new age many of our goods will be printed, layer by layer, using novel materials (not ink) layering these in thin slices creating objects perfectly (no rough edges, no hollowing out required – only perhaps some heat treatment).

The demand will be for a software engineers able to be very creative: there will be more production in garages by innovators; and many repairs to our possessions might be done remotely as the printer creates the correct spare part. It is a practical utopia that forgets we need a supply of `ink´ – so extractive industries will still need their workers, we will still require our electricity and fuel supplies to power our needs and these will require building and maintaining by other than printers. But the revolution is here, and we will need better-educated youths – those who can be re-employed easily as they have the knowledge to use `critical thinking´ and to communicate well.

Sir Fazel Hasan Abed, Chairperson of BRAC in Dhaka has said “… going to school in a poor country is neither enjoyable nor rewarding and that must change. Emphasis must be put on … critical thinking… so innovation and entrepreneurship can be an asset used to lift themselves out of poverty”. I too say this must clearly be a global aim in this forthcoming digital world.

Frank-Jürgen Richter is founder and chairman of Horasis, a global business community