Education, concluded W.B Yeats “is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” These words immediately sprang to memory upon reading about Mr Makhtar Diop’s recent announcement that “the World Bank is working on $ 75 million loan targeting the skill development issue in Uganda.” Mr Diop stressed that extensive unemployment amid skill shortage in African countries reawaken World Bank’s commitment to “expanding opportunities for children and youth and nations alike, through education.”
The pressure for education in Africa to nurture skills that enable learners to thrive in today’s and tomorrow’s world rather than yesterday’s gains momentum each passing day.
How well learners advance their skills rests with classroom delivery. Skill development calls for interactive as opposed to passive teaching techniques, more hands-on tasks in place of the usual chalk and talk. Acquainting teachers with the skills sought after in today’s knowledge economies is only one step. Teacher training should also prepare educators well enough to nurture such competencies – abstract reasoning, problem analysis, communication, among others. Assessment too has to be tuned towards gauging empowerment rather than accumulation of knowledge which manifests in national examinations.
The benefits of a skill-oriented curriculum are not automatic. They are linked to the character of teacher education and how teachers are prepared to handle learners of the time. In Kenya, Shanzu, Machakos, Bondo and other teacher training colleges have been fertile ground for Usaid’s targeted interventions in teacher training. To meet escalating demand for quality education, Ethiopia’s government, backed by DFID, is reinforcing teacher training. Rwanda, meanwhile, is extending access to vocational training to even out skill deficits in wanting fields. The Youth Entrepreneurship Facility has supported training of teachers to effectively deliver Uganda’s entrepreneurship curriculum in secondary schools. Clearly, understanding the learning targets of education in many African countries will become vital if transformation is to have effect.
Science teaching methods have been the spotlight of teacher education over the years. Graduates of Shimoni Teachers’ College are tutored to effectively articulate the value of understanding a chemical reaction to pupils. That skill aside, the same training can equally hone teachers’ ability to consciously support development of critical thinking skills by enabling pupils make judgments and draw conclusions about the reaction.
History may not be as conspicuously vocational as other subjects. Teacher trainees at Ngetta, Kaliro, Unyama are equipped with techniques to teach O-Level history as appreciation of development over time. However, as they train to teach history, they can also be guided to the reality that beyond understanding change, essay writing sharpens communication skills, which they can nurture as they conduct history classes. Well articulated arguments moreover follow from demonstrating independent thought, another coveted skill.
At Mubende National Teachers’ College, aspiring music teachers practice how to blend features that compose stirring performances. Their lenses, however, can be magnified to spot the dual purpose which teaching composition can serve. Besides producing items that pass the examiner’s eyes, it can also groom decision-making aptitude among students of music as they determine qualities to consider on stage.
Tanzania’s budding educators at Korogwe, Morogoro, Monduli teachers colleges, among others, are prepared to gauge learning outcomes largely through written exams. However, by integrating context specific scenarios, they can begin to shape learners’ problem-solving in Mathematics, English to make education applicable to day-to-day life. Reforms to teaching are essential to re-define methods and to facilitate specialisation of teachers in 21st Century skill areas.