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Education for all

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Reflections on the preconditions for learning

People like to talk up new technology in education, but there is a catch...

On Wednesday, the third plenary session of the DW Global Media Forum focused on education as the milestone for sustainable development. Denis Goldberg, a social activist from Cape Town, South Africa, argued, “The focus of education should shift to sustainability because we depend on it.” Doing so requires taking action on issues including overpopulation. One of his suggestions for limiting population growth was expanding social safety nets. By doing so, people move away from the idea that having children is the only way to ensure a stable future.

I thought to myself that he was right. However, the entire debate seems to be missing something. The other speakers at the plenary each discussed how to get young people – teenagers and children – more interested in education, in terms of everything from reading habits to new media and new technologies applied to education. That is all well and good, but from my point of view, we must not forget the basics of personal development. In a poverty-stricken region, if a child does not go to school and is not getting an education anywhere else, it is probably because he is also not well fed.

Aside from the basics, we need to consider what kinds of opportunities we are providing people. Professor Barbara Ischinger (Director, OECD Directorate for Education), presented three stages in maximizing the use of skills educators try to impart: in the short term, putting skills to use; in the mid-term, training in different skills; and in the long term, developing relevant skills according to each country’s economy. Her presentation was very relevant to the NGO where I work. We are developing a new online platform aimed at vocational education. The objective is to provide information on different career paths with a focus on science and the energy industry. One of the discussions we have is whether or not to include training programs for specific skills, since we want teenagers to feel encouraged to take the university path.

Traditional educational outlets, like libraries, got less attention at the conference

The truth is, though, young people these days often need to start working at an earlier age in light of their lacking economic stability (if they have any at all). Another presenter spoke about permeability –the idea that a person could start in a vocational training program and then later be given the chance to continue their studies in a university. Employing people, giving them skills, is the foundation of economic security, and these prospects must be in place for higher education to work.

We have a tendency to overlook some elementary problems when thinking about educational strategies. One of the conference speakers, Verashni Pillay (Online Deputy Editor, Mail & Guardian, South Africa) nailed the main problem in clear words: “Let us get the basics down before we bring in another futuristic view of education.”


June 29, 2012 | 3:59 pm