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Comment: Education must be timeless


In Friday’s issue we carried a story titled “Tertiary curriculum, industry lack coordination”, which was more than a story but an indictment of our education system.

It is one thing to boast that our literacy rate is 90%+ and another to review how this is compatible with critical thinking and adaptability to the fast-changing technological world.

Judging by the number of “useless” graduates roaming the streets in the country, we can safely conclude that there is something wrong with an education system that churns out school-leavers destined for the streets.

Our education gurus should take a leaf out of the book The Sabre Tooth Curriculum by American educator Harold Raymond Wayne Benjamin, published in 1939.

The Sabre Tooth Curriculum is a satire analysing how unscrutinised traditions of schooling result in resistance to needed changes.

Education, according to this author, should not stick with the old; rather it should be responsive to the emerging needs of life experiences.

In the satire an early Stone Age educator develops a curriculum that enables youngsters to cope with their environment.

The topics (and skills) in the curriculum include fish-grabbing-with-bare-hands, woolly-horse-clubbing, and sabre-tooth-tiger-scaring-with-fire.

For years, this curriculum proved effective.

However, a new ice age dawns and muddy rivers make it impossible to see and grab fish, woolly horses migrate to more suitable climates and the sabre-tooth tigers become extinct rendering the skills learned obsolete.

This is the scenario we face in this fast-changing world, a scenario that our education system is dismally failing to cope with, hence the number of unemployed graduates who roam our streets; graduates who lack initiative and creativity.

The tribal leaders rightly scorned the sabre tooth curriculum: “If you had any education yourself,” they said severely, “you would know that the essence of true education is timelessness. It is something that endures through changing conditions, like a solid rock standing squarely and firmly in the middle of a raging torrent.”

Learning in the 21st Century should be more than regurgitation of facts; it requires a range of dispositions: curiosity, resilience, flexibility, imagination, creativity and self-evaluation, among others.

Such dispositions cannot be acquired through a curriculum whose main focus is on courses, content and accountability.

Our curriculum should be holistic and designed in such a manner that it develops the mind, imagination and character of its graduates.

Good and relevant education is not measured by the number of certificates one holds or the literacy level one has attained, but by the ability of the learner to contribute to the building of the community.

The curriculum should teach not train, so that students can adapt to changing times.

The sabre tooth curriculum did not teach students, rather it trained them, hence they failed to cope with the changing environment.

Jacob Bronowski in The Ascent of Man correctly notes that the most developmental step man has taken is the move from technical to intellectual, the distinction between the moulding action of the hand and the analytical action of the hand.

The curriculum should teach graduates to transcend beyond analysis.

If our education system remains stuck in the past, then the nation will always lag behind in terms of development.

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