Last Saturday, the world marked the World Youth Skills Day. The day emphasises the need for proper education and training to be given to young people to ensure they have the relevant skills to succeed in the job market.
While the ongoing campaigns for the General Election keep us abuzz, let us not get distracted or lose focus of the country’s long term goals and forget we are still in competition with the rest of the world.
It is regrettable that our current primary and high school education system teaches children to pass national exams rather than comprehend and even challenge the concepts put forward. Education has been reduced to a knowledge test you have to pass to avoid the shameful bottom page of the results list. Because of this, learners often resort to cramming to pass the exams. They will pass the tests but may very well end up failing in the real world at first instance due to absence of skills such as innovation, business acumen or critical and independent thinking. Indeed, the United Nations is correct, young people are not being taught life skills that prepare them for that successful job that teachers keep talking to them about.
The world is now fully engulfed in the fourth industrial revolution. Do what schools teach prepare children for the challenges that this entails? The global economy is heavily technology based, with aspects of artificial intelligence that allow robots and computers to take on tasks that workers once carried out, such a heavy document review. There is also digital automation that has contributed to loss of jobs in banks and call centres. On the other hand, access to technology and widespread internet connectivity has seen the rise of the gig economy through platforms such as Uber.
It is both worrying and exciting at the same time that children in primary schools will take on jobs that have not yet come into existence in growing sectors such as 3D printing. The rapid and pervasive integration of technology into our work and lifestyle is taking over at an unprecedented rate, and the younger generation is not fully equipped to make a substantial contribution to our future economy. It is commendable that young children are learning and developing their motor skills by working from laptops, but now is the time they develop their cognitive skills by learning how to programme the gadgets. Luckily for them, technology is evening out the global playing field for developed countries to become key players, and it is our duty to ensure they have the right skills to be well-placed to take advantage of this digital revolution.
One of the ways of achieving this is through technology education. Notably, one of the goals of Kenya’s Vision 2030 education pillar was to establish a computer supply programme to equip students with modern IT skills. Computer science is a subject that is available for secondary students, but as an elective. If we are to align our children’s skills with children in the developed countries, computer science should be a compulsory subject, with emphasis on cybersecurity. To borrow a leaf from Ireland, children should also be taught coding from primary school as part of the mathematics curriculum.
Technology investment should also rapidly progress from primary to secondary schools, to provide the required equipment, infrastructure and ensure digital connectivity across the board. Another important resource that we should quickly start investing in is teachers. Teacher training should now be design- and technology-oriented, rather than just being heavily-focused on pure knowledge-based subjects.
With the above, we will achieve the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development of quality education that will produce youth who have the relevant competencies, including technical and vocational skills for employment and entrepreneurship. This clearly makes the need to invest in technology education a no brainer.
Gladys Burini works with international businesses on commercial litigation.