Working together to build 21st Century competencies

The African child grows up with the dream that education will be the key to a brighter future and the ticket out of poverty. “ticket out of kasi as it is known in South Africa” This is certainly true, but is the education that our children are receiving ensuring that their dreams become reality?
Just knowing things is no longer enough.
In theory at least, we have moved beyond the 20th century education paradigm which was about filling our children’s heads with facts and figures. In the 21st Century the emphasis has shifted to kindling the fire. What is demanded now is that learners stay curious about finding things out, and educators find ways to ensure that the knowledge they share is relevant, current, topical and responsive to change.
In other words, 21st century schools should be designed, not to ‘fill up’ students with particular kinds of existing knowledge, but to increase students’ ability to learn, independently and with others, and to produce new knowledge.
We hear again and again that education is one of the most powerful and proven vehicles for sustainable development. We know that quality education is one of 17 Global Goals that make up the 2030 SDG Agenda, but are we doing enough on the ground to ensure that the education that is being provided to our children lays the foundation for the lifelong learning that is vital for success in the 21st Century?
At the Biovision Alexandria 2016 conference, held in Egypt this month, William Saito, special advisor to the Japanese Prime Minister, reminded delegates of reports that suggest that when the toddlers of today grow up, 60% of the jobs present now – and which education is preparing them for – will have disappeared.
For him, that means that one of the most important 21st Century skills that we can teach is that there is nothing wrong with failure. We need to create a culture of tolerance, teaching young people that it is normal to fail a few times to truly innovate, he said.
In order for this to happen, we must ensure that social and emotional learning (SEL) are combined with traditional skills to equip students to succeed in the evolving digital economy.
Education sector plans released by many African governments in recent years have concentrated on the facilities for improved access to education: the school buildings, the provision of teachers and textbooks and improved pass rates.
These are all very worthy goals, but the future for the developing world depends on the ability of nations to create enabling environments that ensure that young people are given an education that enables critical thinking, entrepreneur training and ICT tools.
According to Unesco, while sub-Saharan Africa made the greatest progress in primary school enrolment among all developing regions – from 52% in 1990, up to 78% in 2012 – large disparities still remain. Children from the poorest households are four times more likely to be out of school than those of the richest households. Disparities between rural and urban areas also remain high.
The World Economic Forum’s report on SEL identified the need for policy makers, educators, parents, researchers, business, tech developers and investors to work together to set the agenda for change and to ensure that our children are not left behind in the global economy.

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