Making our education relevant for sustainable development

Making our education relevant for sustainable development

By Les Baillie

Education is at the heart of the world’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Not only is it a standalone goal (SDG 4), it is also a target contributing to other SDGs on health, growth and employment, sustainable consumption and production, and climate change.

In order to effectively unlock its potential, teachers and learning institutions should aim to create all-rounded students. That is why in addition to academics, there is great emphasis on extra-curricular activities and community engagements.

A lot has been done to reform the education sector in Kenya by both the government and the private sectors. The country has prioritised education reforms as key to achieving this goal. With support from various partners, the government is systematically removing barriers to quality education.

From raising teaching standards to providing greater access to quality content, clean and safe sanitation among other efforts, emphasis is on reaching the most marginalised, including girls and refugee children. This is to ensure education is accessible to all and to achieve universal primary education.

However, a lot more needs to be done over the next decade, if we are to not only achieve the SDGs, but also overall sustainable development. Continued efforts to eliminate multiple barriers to learning are necessary. Measures such as improved sanitation, enhanced teaching standards and access to textbooks and digital learning programmes must continue being addressed.

Alongside government efforts, education sector has been a major focus area for corporate and private giving in Kenya. We all have a role to play in narrowing the skills gap and creating a match between those that are learned, and those required in this fourth industrial revolution era.

Recently, together with Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, we convened our second Impact Philanthropy Africa Forum where together with like-minded private sector partners, we intensively discussed how to strengthen the education sector for sustainable development, while improving equity, quality and relevance in Kenya and beyond.

I will share some of the learnings from this forum, enriched by our experience running M-Pesa Foundation Academy that I believe are applicable across the board.

One of the biggest distinctions that sits at the heart of what we do at the Academy is the difference between teaching and learning. Teaching is imparting lessons about a particular subject whereas learning is gaining knowledge by studying or through practical experiences. A student can learn without a teacher, but a teacher cannot teach without a student.

Secondly, learning institutions need to be driven by the need for holistic student growth. When we began this journey, it was with the intention of not just producing students whose knowledge is limited to passing exams, but to invest in nurturing future leaders for Kenya and Africa.

In order to achieve that, we needed to ensure that our delivery of the curriculum creates an environment and culture that encourages free thinking and research.

Thirdly, rather than use technology to carry out lessons in class, we use it to demonstrate how powerful technology is in transforming lives. After their national exams, students at the M-Pesa Foundation Academy are hosted for up to a year on an Entrepreneurial Leadership Programme at the Uongozi Centre. This programme is meant to widen students’ perspective on Kenyan and African issues, while providing them with skills to further broaden their minds in their chosen fields or professions.

We operate under the belief that teaching is not about drilling students for exams but opening up their minds to develop appetite for knowledge. In a traditional, teacher-centered classroom, teachers ask questions and students answer.

Teachers decide what students work on, assign timelines for assignments and then deliver direct instruction, often to the whole class at once. Conversely, in a student-centered, personalised classroom, the teacher works with students and has necessary resources and supports to take risks and follow students’ lead.

Another lesson has been that modern teaching also involves appreciation of the value of co-curricular activities and that it is not useful to equate acquisition of knowledge to pushing students to pore through books. It is the duty of parents and teachers, acting as their mentors and role models, to seek to unlock the full potential of the young ones.

There are those who want to learn baking, hand-stitching or knitting while others want to practice art, participate in sports, learn music, public speaking and even build robots. It would be useful for the wholesomeness of their development to give students the opportunity to fully explore horizons of their capabilities.

We cannot ignore the importance of integrating technology into teaching and learning. This enables students and teachers to access content above and beyond what is in textbooks.

Technology is a great equalizer in education. It also offers the opportunity for exploration, collaboration, content creation and individualised teaching and learning. It allows one to understand the world from a very broad perspective.

Of all the lessons we have picked, perhaps the most important is the importance of partnerships.

This Article was first published on The Standard.