Monday, January 18, 2021 | ePaper

21st Century Education: It’s time for our youngsters to shine…

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Bangladesh is the 8th largest country in the world, in terms of size of the population. We have an enrolled student population of about 45 million across all levels of education. Our student population alone is much higher than the total population of many of the European and Middle-Eastern nations. Careful adoption of 21st Century Education can transform this student population into significant human resources for the sustainable development of our country. Potentially, everyone can become a change-maker effectively working to achieve our shared aspiration to become a developed country by 2041, and successfully meet the critical objectives of the “Delta Plan” in the process.
Education is a fundamental human right. The deeper purpose of the education is a matter of perspective. It is a human experience that provides each and everyone of us live better lives both materially and spiritually. In terms of coverage Bangladesh has ensured the access to formal education for every child at the age of five years.  However, formal education in Bangladesh seems fulfil a myopic purpose, and lacks to align itself with the broader, more complex realities of the individual learner and her/his aspirations. That is precisely why educators need to ensure that a restated purpose is aligned with those aspirations that may benefit our nation and the world as a whole. Let us explore those deeper purposes of education:
1. Ethics
With the de facto normalisation of egocentrism, corruption, and violent crime in our society, there has been a visible deterioration of human values in our society. As important as employability or entrepreneurship is as a driving force behind education, inspiring us to be morally upright human being remains at the centre of civilisation and the human project. As more and more we are becoming integral part of global community in every aspect of our life, hence with the help of qualified psychologists, sociologists, and communication experts – universally accepted ethics, etiquette, social and civic responsibility, and moral liability must be integrated in all educational curriculum throughout an individual’s learning journey. As a matter of urgent priority and preventive intervention, such cohesive approach can transform our individual lives, communities, and society into one where citizens protect one another.  It may deserve to conduct some research to find out if ethic is the root cause for many of our problems in our societies.  I am sure if ethical values are given as priority in the education system at every levels, the fairness in society will be increased and level of dissatisfaction at the individual level will be decreased.
2.Employment
Today’s reality highlights employment to be a central purpose of education. Employment doesn’t necessarily mean a job, it also means self-employment or entrepreneurship. That is why we must understand what employers and investors look for when they recruit a prospective employee, or finance a new business. The particular context notwithstanding, employers and investors recruit employees, they tend to look for two critical competencies: (a) operational skills, and (b) soft skills.
Both operational and soft skills etc are now expected to be taught by academic institutions.  For example, the operational skillset for a civil engineer is measured by her/ his certified technical knowledge, and her/ his ability to effective apply that knowledge in an actionable project. In addition to that core competency, a civil engineer in today’s globalised, highly competitive job market is also expected to have a wide range of soft skills such as teamwork, agility, systems thinking, creative thinking, time management, strategic planning, inter personal, and effective communication.  
For example, a civil engineer needs to work in a team that is likely to be consisted of workers, foremen, technicians, colleagues, and organisational hierarchy. Therefore, in addition to her/ his operational skills, the civil engineer also needs to learn how to work cohesively in a team that consists of various job functions, and personalities. In addition to teamwork, a civil engineer also needs to be agile, so that he can adapt quickly to changing circumstances. Systems thinking is also an important problem-solving skill for today’s professionals. A civil engineer must be able to analyse, synthesise, and foresee the consequences of his actions.  Creative thinking or the ability to find innovative, actionable solutions is also a critical soft skill for the civil engineer. Time management in terms of project management, lead times, and response times in order to meet and even exceed project delivery expectations. Strategic planning, or the need to clearly define objectives, timeframes, resources, and workplan deployment is essential to the successful completion of any project. The synergy of eloquently executed interpersonal and communication skills ranging from empathy, courtesy, ability to learn, the ability to apply new learning, conversational discovery of stakeholder needs, and effective response to stakeholder needs is the key to success in any career.
Needless to say, the soft skills discussed here are relevant not only to a civil engineer, but anyone who desires to have a successful career. These soft skills, in essence, are nothing sort of life skills those are critical factors to succeed in this highly competitive era of employment market.
Now the question is, how much of these critical workplace and life skills typical academic institutions are able to cover. The objective of this article is to identify and uncover areas where we need some kind of baseline assessments, appropriate intervention, and some kind of endline assessments so that we can enhance our capacity together.
Firstly, based on my extensive experience in education advisory and operations, I strongly feel that we need to take a strategic approach to ensure that these critical soft skills are integrated into the academic curriculum from the beginning, so that educators can proactively help learners succeed in the workplace and in life – regardless of the duration of her/ his academic career.
Secondly, while developing the primary and secondary level curriculum, we need to keep that in mind that not everyone aspires to be an engineer or MBA. Rather these curricula should focus on the practical requirements of the job market as a whole.
The readymade garments sector is one of the largest employers in Bangladesh with over 4 million workers, the majority of them being women. As important as those numbers are for financial inclusion and empowerment of women, no less than 95% of employees in this sector do not have any relevant qualifications to perform their job before employment, despite having completed secondary education. Most, if not all tend to learn the basics on the job.  We should seriously consider including some basic technical understanding about readymade garments sector in secondary schools.
This type of inclusion is also likely to help learners develop entrepreneurial interest from the very early years of their academic journey.  For example, in every secondary schools if we can set up an “innovation lab” equipped with resources such as a small readymade garments set-up and computers that enable practical education in design and crafts. This should also help setting up career direction from very early years and can focus on some kind of identified specialisation.
Thirdly, we must enhance the employability of our vocational education and training.  The sustained economic growth of the country has created a massive opportunity for employment such quality. For example, our continued transition into a middle-income country and government’s commitment to ensure the electricity coverage of whole country by 2021 is more than likely to generate massive new demands for skilled electricians, plumbers, refrigeration technicians, TV technicians, and mobile phone technicians as more and more people have access to electricity, modern toilets, refrigerators, air conditioners, TVs, and mobile devices.
We have roughly 4,500 Unions in Bangladesh. If we require a minimum number of technicians per area of expertise each in each Union, then we will need at least 200,000 skilled electricians, plumbers, refrigeration technicians, TV technicians, and mobile phone technicians for a wide variety of services and interventions. Bangladesh Technical Education Board (BTEB) should introduce a certification programme for licensed technical professionals for these identified sectors.    
Our growing economy will continue to create opportunities for employment across multiple disciplines nationwide. By providing appropriate vocational training and certification to the youths in the rural areas, we can meet that emerging demand whilst creating new wealth in a meaningful way. With the right certification, experience, and opportunity, some are likely to go abroad as skilled workers, and earn at least 5 times higher than an unskilled worker that Bangladesh is known for. Our remittance economy will begin to engineer a paradigm shift in the process.
3. Entrepreneurship
An entrepreneur creates self-employment and employment for others. In an emerging economy such as ours, entrepreneurs must create jobs for our growing youth population. However, the focus of our education system has always been on employment as employee of another organisation, which seems very self-centric.  But, I think the time has come now, we also need to develop our education system in a way that can help setting up the aspiration to at least some of the young minds that they want to become an entrepreneur.  At different level of education system we should have case studies of some of the successful Bangladeshi entrepreneurs who are now the owners of some of largest business groups in the country, who initially started from zero.  I remember, during our school days our teachers used to ask us to right essay on “Aim in Life” and as student we used to memorise aim in life of a pilot, doctor or engineer, instead of having our own aim in life.  And, there were no example of anyone wanting to become an entrepreneur.
Considering the fact that we do not need too many engineers and MBAs, we should encourage some of our students to set up their own enterprise while they are at their higher secondary levels.  And, in the curriculum of secondary level and higher secondary level there should be some sections to encourage some of them to become entrepreneurs and with the guideline what kind of enterprise they can establish such as social business, IT outsourcing, shops, factory, e-commerce, etc.  It should also have the guideline of compliance of government regulatory requirements, income tax, bank loans, etc.  so that from very early years they become aware and respectful to comply with the government regulations and pay taxes.  There should also be some guideline on generic business development activities such as designing website, promotion through social medias, etc.  By setting up the enterprise in the early years, by the time their classmates complete their BBAs and MBAs, some of the young entrepreneurs could be in a position to employ some of those MBAs in their business in different capacities!
4. Empowerment:
Education empowers people with the knowledge, skills and values they need to build a better world. The belief that quality education can help reduce poverty and inequality comes from a recognition that education is a basic human right—similar to food and shelter—and that it is vital to protecting human dignity.
Education that emphasises empowerment an inclusion through has two key strands. First, such education is a powerful driver for effecting positive change. For example, education helps women become aware of their rights, articulate their aspirations outside traditionally imposed roles, and subsequently prepare them to overcome the challenges they may face in the job market or as entrepreneurs.
There are many national and international scholars made lots of statement about the power of education, for example “you give me an educated mother, I will give you an educated nation”  said Napoleon Bonaparte. Similarly, Nelson Mandela said “education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”  In the recent time, Malala Yousafzai said “one child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world.  All the above statements reflects the power of education.
5. Sustainable Development
Sustainable development, by definition, must meet today’s need without adversely impacting the lives of future generations. It is about today’s activities that do not place short-term gains over long-term consequences. In that light, our education system needs to integrate climate change, systemic inequity, and practical exercises designed to promote ecological responsibility and social justice. That is the only way to involve everyone as we work toward our collective objective to become a developed nation by 2041, and to achieve the long-term of objectives of Delta Plan. Our development goals and milestones must become widely known, and then inform the actions that drive our daily lives.
We need to prepare students not only for employment for sustainable economic growth, but also with the skills and values that will allow them to live sustainable lifestyles on this planet. This entails encouraging strong personal development as well as promoting responsible citizenship. Once again an education for sustainable development perspective can enrich the discussion of twenty first century education.
The sustainable development curriculum must be framed around:
Knowledge – understanding the challenges human society is facing both locally and globally.
Action – the development of practical skills and competencies to meet and overcome those challenges.
Tolerance – the appreciation of interdependence, legitimate disagreements, pluralism, mutual understanding, and peace
Growth – the enhancement of one’s personal attributes, and the ability to act with responsibility, autonomy, and sound judgment.
6. Fourth Industrial Revolution:
The Fourth Industrial Revolution has already begun with disruptive innovations driven by Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning. Applications and technologies enabled by quantum computing is just around the corner.
Robots have already begun to replace human beings in performing repetitive tasks without human error. Practically error free AI-enabled applications and heuristic algorithm have similarly begun to replace human beings in business intelligence, administrative processes, financial analysis, remote learning and assessment, FAQ-driven response, and drug discovery to name a few.      
As Bangladesh continues to grow as a developing country, our investors are more than likely to leapfrog and embrace these disruptions. That said, human labour will not become obsolete due to our ability to connect seemingly unrelated dots, uncover new opportunities, and innovate new products and services that leverage human relationships and creativity in all of their nuances.
Keeping this in mind, our curriculum must teach the actionable skills that can enable us to stay relevant and thrive during Fourth Industrial Revolution. According to the World Economic Forum, those skills are:
Complex Problem Solving – a set of self-regulated psychological processes and activities that enable human beings to meet objectives that cannot be met by routine actions in a dynamic environment.
Critical Thinking – the systematic analysis and synthesis of facts to form a sound judgement.  
Creativity – the systematic ability to consider and ideate something in a new way.
People Management – a set of practices that manage the end-to-end process of talent acquisition, talent optimisation, and talent retention.
Coordinating with Others – a set of skills informed by clear communication, understanding personality types, and organisation.
Emotional Intelligence – the ability to scan, monitor, categorise, and use one’s own and other people’s emotions in order to guide thinking and behaviour.
Judgement and Decision Making – the faculty to make considered and effective decisions, reach sensible conclusions, scan and discern relationships, understand situations and patterns, and form informed opinions in matter that impact action.     
Service Orientation – the ability to anticipate, recognise, and meet others’ needs even before they’re articulated.
Negotiation – the ability to systematically engineering an agreement or consensus.
Cognitive Flexibility – the ability to overcome cognitive dissonance and adjust one’s own beliefs, perceptions, and interpretations as new and credible information challenges those beliefs, perceptions, and interpretations.
7. Innovation:
Innovation is a key driver of growth and well-being. New technologies, products, services and organisations create jobs and rejuvenate industries – while making others obsolete. To reap the gains of innovation, policy makers in the education sector need to understand how the way we innovate is changing and what this implies for education and training policies.
Harnessing the benefits of innovation within the education sector itself is a key challenge. To do so, effective and evidence-based governance mechanisms are needed to encourage, facilitate and help measure innovation in education systems.
Innovation also implies that societies, education and training systems must empower people to innovate and quickly respond to new skills needs generated by innovations.
8. Environment:
Covid-19 has changed our perspective of importance of education for environment and climate.  I consider Covid-19 as a response of nature against our irresponsive behaviour to protect the environment of this planet. In this era of sustainable development, environment and education need to be truly integral. What better way to begin tackling sustainability issues than through meaningful education on the environment, where learners take ownership and action on the issues in their physical surroundings?
Covid-19 is possibly just a signal to us that we need to behave responsibly to the environment, otherwise we may have to face devastating consequence of our behaviour in the near future.
This is the high time for us to make sure that the academic curriculum at different levels contains appropriate lessons on environment and climate, so that our next generation understand their responsibilities to protect this planet and make it a better place to live.
9. Governance
Governance is the systems of and processes that ensure the overall direction, effectiveness, supervision, and accountability of any organisation at any level. Good governance is absolutely essential for sustainable development of growth. In government, good governance means measuring the ways in which public institutions conduct public affairs using public resources. Ensuring human rights and the rule of law, strengthening inclusion and empowerment, promoting transparency and capacity building in public administration are the basic goals of good governance. Those goals are ensured by eight principles that guide policy and implementation. Governance must be included in our curriculum from the secondary level in order to mitigate corruption, engineer efficiency, and generate shared peace and prosperity for everyone in Bangladesh.
10. Conclusion:
45 million student population is the biggest strength of Bangladesh, we just need to ensure that they are equipped with the right kind of education and skills to face the challenges of 21st Century. If we can develop this student population as the ‘human capital’ we should be able to eliminate most of challenges, which are anticipated as potential risk in achieving our goal to become a developed nation by 2041.  This is the high time for our decision makers and regulators in the education sector to go for a holistic review of our education system at every levels.
About the writer:

Shahin Reza is a domain expert for international education.  He is the Country Manager of Cambridge Assessment International Education, which is a part of the University of Cambridge and Chief Consultant of EduCan International, which is a multidimensional international education consultancy organisation.  Before joining Cambridge, he was the Regional Development Manager of Pearson for Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan and Eastern Regions of India. And, prior to that he was the Head of Educational and Professional Qualifications at British Council Bangladesh.
Email: shahinreza74@hotmail.com

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