As the Minister of Finance ponders on how to get maximum value for the money he will devote to the vehicle for the economic and social transformation of our society, he may come to the stark realisation that there is definitely a need to rethink the purpose of education.
Given the level of crime, criminality, youth disillusionment and cynicism about the future among large segments of the society, a discerning mind may be prompted to acknowledge this reality as an outcome of an outdated education/human development model.
Notwithstanding the amount of money we have been allocating to education over the last four decades, the percentage of young minds that fail the system remains relatively unchanged. The numbers of young people who reject the school system still remain alarmingly high.
Inadvertently, these are people who come from the lower socio-economic strata, who accept that the cards are stacked against them. They see no hope of success in a high-stakes arrangement designed to exclude. Disillusionment sets into their minds from an early age. This soon turns to total rejection, for they recognise that while they are in school, education is out of their reach.
While the provision of such opportunity comes at significant cost to the State, one wonders at the wisdom of continuing to provide such opportunity without addressing the disadvantaged status of large segments of the student population.
Large segments of the society have lost faith in education as a vehicle for upward social mobility and enhanced well-being. The massive expansion of access to educational opportunity has not yielded the results we expected from this investment. Many young people question the wisdom of investing in high-stakes educational pursuits and map out alternative pathways to economic and social success.
The prospect of a career in criminality is enhanced by an inefficient, dysfunctional judicial and legal system which has essentially been telling them “crime pays;” it’s quick, easy, and yields high returns. Why then bother with an education system that would ultimately label them as failures rather than successes? We also know that despite the economic advances made by our country, there is also a widening gap between the rich and poor owing to the unequal distribution of wealth. This inequity is reflected in our school system and manifests itself in the large number of people who fail the system annually, inadvertently perpetuating inequality. Criminals are also getting younger.
So as the minister and the country ponder on educational investment, the following questions must be addressed. How can the link between education and employment be strengthened? How can the economic and social value of education and training be enhanced in the current context? How can the relevance of education, particularly at the secondary level, be enhanced to make it more responsive to the lives of all young people and to their prospects for employment? Are existing measures sufficient? Can we continue to put people through 12 years of schooling and then certify the majority of them as failures?
The quickening pace of scientific and technological development globally has made it extremely difficult to forecast the emergence of new professions and associated skill needs. In some countries this has prompted efforts to establish more responsive education and professional skills development that include greater diversification and flexibility.
This facilitates the adaptation of competencies to rapidly changing needs. It also ensures that individuals are more resilient and can develop and apply career adaptive competencies more effectively. Economic austerity is a terrible thing to waste. Economic prudence in education must be guided by the new global order and our vision for sustainable prosperity.