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Opinions of Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Columnist: Anis Haffar

The irony of analogue trained teachers in a digital age

If ever there was the need for a transition for innovative education to happen, this brave new world demands it. Quite a number of reactionaries in the education sector in poor countries tend to be those who see themselves as possessing terminal degrees of various hues.

But by refusing to update themselves for the digital age, they unwittingly invite their own self-termination. To steer the right corner, such detractors will have to take colossal mental leaps to escape the perennial cycle of mediocrity caused by the apathetic ways in which they perceive education and the indifference by which they deliver it. At the end of it all, the digitally inclined youth are the losers, and that must not continue!

I remember a remark by the former chairman of the board of Intel Corporation and a 1997 Time Magazine Man of The Year, Andrew S. Grove. In his book, “Only the Paranoid Survive: How to exploit the crisis points that challenge every company”, he recalled how he often called on people who were experts in their field to teach him in order to improve himself. He said, “This entailed some personal risk. It required swallowing my pride and admitting how little I knew …”

He wrote, “Basically, I went back to school. (I was aided by the fact that Intel is a schoolish company, where it’s perfectly respectable for a senior person with 20 years of experience to take some time, buckle up and learn a whole new set of skill).

Admitting that the need to learn something new is always difficult. It is even difficult if you are a senior manager who is accustomed to the automatic deference which people accord you owing to your position. But if you don’t fight it, that very deference may become a wall that isolates you from learning new things. It all takes self-discipline.”

The mind is a terrible thing to waste, and if great digital minds such as Grove, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs defined themselves as lifelong learners, what excuse do the rest of us mere mortals have?

Technological innovations are the order of the day, and perennial reflections of practice are the requirements; but a proportion of our chronic academics are passive resistors blocking the way for the youth to progress. In reality they stumble when confronted with new challenging technology or pretend that the radically new ways of doing things do not exist. A passive mindset tends to do the same old things over and again by heart while counting such wasted periods of passivity as experience. Without a critical reflection that sort of experience is as dead as pork.

The era of technological innovations and forward thinking require a mindset diametrically opposed to the bureaucratic staleness which, without any checks and balances, can cause disaster. Apathy is not only a drag, it can be outright destructive.

It was quite revealing listening to the educator, Dr K.B. Tandoh of AGA School in Obuasi, share the following analogy. He said in the airline industry, the pilots who fly a plane to say Ghana from New York, are not the same pilots assigned to fly the plane back. Rather than take things for granted from the aloofness that borders on familiarity with the experience of the earlier flight, the fresh pilots commit themselves to rechecking the safety standards anew to avoid unexpected mishaps.

It’s so disappointing to go to schools in some districts to find that even in the rare cases where you find computers, they are covered up with “broni we wu” blankets and bedsheets. Rather than admit their own deficiencies, the heads retort that the students will spoil the equipment. In lieu of actual hands-on practice, the students are made to chew “yes or no” answers, or shade multiple choices for grades. That is patently senseless! In one instance, I virtually had to beg the heads to please allow the students to use the machines while assuring them that the machines would break only if they were dropped.

In Ghana, when we quote Proverbs 22:6, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it” the only sensible action ascribed to the words by many are the whippings and devious punishments claimed to develop a good character. What a world to grow in!

Little did it occur to the culprits that the youth need skills to work productively and that is the way they should go to steer their future with determination and confidence. It’s amazing how the very word “skills” or “work” has become an anathema in the culture of the nation’s curricula developers.

In the column “Innovative solutions through digital technology: Examples from the Kofi Annan Centre of Excellence and Harvard University (June 18, 2012) I asked, “Must we watch on, bow to failure one opportune era after another and accept the nation’s education relegated to the bottom heap?

It’s as if the youth dropping out in such large numbers doesn’t matter, and that Ghana in particular, and Africa in general must accept the status quo. Quality education for the youth to advance in useful ways is the new civil rights. Opportunities for solutions initiated by young people are today’s challenges.” Stay blessed.