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Reform To Reflect The Needs Of The 21st Century Learner (Article)

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In pursuant of Article 67 of the Constitution of the Republic of Ghana, H.E. Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo on Thursday, February 8, 2018, delivered to us the State of the Nation Address. As much as everything said by him bothers me as a citizen, I took a particular interest in the area of education as an educator and education advocate. Albeit the President’s brief comment on the area of education, the revelation that they are “reforming the schools’ curricula to deal with the weaknesses in our education system” alone captures in totality what needs to be said about the state of education in the country. 

 

 We’ve over the years have an educational crisis to deal with; more children are in school but are not achieving the minimum reading skills, and most graduates from our tertiary institutions lack the skills needed by employers. The explosion of the 4th Industrial Revolution and the need for us to develop the citizens to be globally competent are signaling us that, more than ever, the weaknesses in the education system have widened and, therefore, presenting us with a more profound crisis to deal with.

The current education system is rooted in models that were successful only in the past and can’t be applicable in today’s society. To quote Dr. Deirdre Butler of Dublin City University, Ireland, “the society that education served years back is different from today’s society.” The world is changing at a breakneck pace, presenting with it complex problems that need solutions, and our schools must rise to the challenge by giving students tasks that require that they solve real-world problems. The existing curricula – which focus on knowledge production and mastery of content, can’t have a place in today’s world. 

The news by the President on an ongoing curriculum reform is welcoming. That must be done to reflect the 21st-century skills needed by the child for the world of work, life and society. In doing so, the emphasis on “knowing the information” must shift to how students access, interpret, analyze, and evaluate information. And at the heart of this is the use of digital tools to advance teaching and learning. 

The reform must prioritize producing digital literate citizens. We are advancing into a world that will witness all routine jobs automated. The reform must ask the one big question: “How are we preparing our students for the future?” The problems facing us are not the ones that the students can find solutions for from their textbooks. They need digital skills to be able to search for information and find new ways of doing things (that is how they can be part of the answers to the problems we face). 

 The reform also needs to take a second look at the standardized test in our schools. Assessment must be done to measure the child’s ways of thinking, creativity and innovation, collaboration, decision making, problem-solving, and communication – which are essential skills needed by the child to function in the 4th Industrial Revolution. The world is not waiting for us; we need the curriculum reform to meet the changing demands of the world.

Besides, the curriculum must emphasize the development of global competence. As highlighted by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), through its Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), our schools must be able to help students to “examine contemporary issues of local, global, and intercultural significance and live in multicultural societies.” That calls for the students’ ability to examine the world beyond their immediate environment and “take action for collective well-being and sustainable development both locally and globally.” Our children cannot be part of changing a world that they know nothing about. The Citizenship Education subject can be restructured to deliberately make provision for them to be knowledgeable about the world. 

This reform is an opportunity for us to address the crisis in our education system, and it must be done, having in mind the needs of the 21st-century learner.

As I conclude, I must state my displeasure, probably on behalf of teachers in the country, on how we are always excluded from education reform processes. Speaking to teacher union leaders to get their inputs into the curriculum reform doesn’t reflect the ideals of the ordinary teacher in the classroom. Carol Davis’ sentiment, as captured in the book, TEACHERS, SCHOOLS AND SOCIETY, by Myra Pollack Sadker and David Miller Sadker, expresses the opinion of the majority of teachers when our ideas do not matter when it comes to education reform. She noted, “We’re told… what to teach (and not to teach), what to want and not to want, what to think… I am trained in English, but I’m rarely asked for my opinion…” More opinions are needed for this reform, and that of we teachers in the classrooms are equally required.

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