We're In The Middle Of An Educational Revolution - Make The Most Of It

Delegate from Canada, Joel Nicholson on the Education Plenary Session at this year's Summit in Johannesburg, South Africa. 

The first Session of the One Young World Summit 2013 focused on the most requested topic this year: Education.


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We heard from six speakers, who are making a tremendous impact through their education-related initiatives. For example, Mohamed Camara from Nigeria works with Slum to School Africa, an organisation that has successfully enrolled over 600 children from slums to schools. Another example is Migan Magarian from Germany, who co-founded TeachSurfing.com - a site for travelers who'd like to spend time during their trips volunteering in schools.

After the speeches, there was a brief discussion about a range of issues in education being raised on stage. It was incredible to hear how consistent others’ views on education were with mine; so in this post, I’d like to summarise these issues, and propose a set of attainable solutions.

The first is access. There are a significant number of young people not currently in school or receiving any formal type of education. Scholarships such as Mohamed’s Slum to School initiative and my YOUniversityHub.com bursary help a small number of people attend high school and university, but there simply isn’t enough support offered to fix the problem at a larger scale. The private sector needs to take more of a role here. Imagine how many people we could send to school if just 1% of all small, medium, and large enterprises around the world donated a mere 0.1% of their profits to this cause. The impact would be substantial.

School-building projects also help with educational access. Every single day, hundreds of new schools are being built across the globe, but we should also look towards more sustainable and immediate ways to deliver quality education. “We don’t need to wait for the schools to be built,” says Migan Magarian in her speech today about TeachSurfing.com. Let’s make sure these alternative sources of education become successful - TeachSurfing launches soon, so visit the website and sign up.

There’s also a lot of talk about Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), such as Coursera and Udemy, and how they will end educational inaccessibility. But first we need telcos to invest in affordable internet solutions in emerging and remote areas of the world, and we also need to establish curriculum standards for these courses so they’re credibly viewed by prospective employers.

The second problem is quality. Even if we are enabling the accessibility of education with the above mentioned solutions, students today feel that what they're learning (and how they're learning it) is completely irrelevant to what they think they need to succeed in today's world. Research shows that we're admitting hundreds of millions of students to formal education institutions each year, but an equal - if not higher - amount are dropping out. In fact, delegates voted today that current education policy in their countries have not kept pace with the skills required today. Something clearly needs to change.

Textbook learning must be diminished and replaced by video tutorials and multimedia games; theoretical lectures that feel like endless monologues must be replaced by practical workshops and collaborative dialogues; and our assembly line model curriculum that focus on the regurgitation of facts and information must be replaced by a curriculum that teaches the fundamental skills that are empirically found to increase both quality of life and success - skills like critical thinking, problem solving, creativity, and goal-setting.

Even if students stay in their educational institutions, chances are - in this economic climate - they graduate jobless, in debt, or both. The culprits: rising tuition costs and an irrelevant curriculum. Universities are going to experience the same phenomena as the newspaper industry: they're taking on mountains of debt with a drying revenue stream - their cost base needs to be controlled and governments need to cap tuitions to encourage this. In addition, irrelevant curriculums make new graduates hard to employ. At most companies, it takes on average 6-12 months for new hires to be productive. But what kind of company is willing to invest in costly training programmes during tough times? This leads to the youth unemployment problem we see today. Educational institutions and the private sector need to start working together to create a first-rate curriculum.

The last problem is responsibility. Even if students graduate from high school or university with a great job that pays well, a significant proportion of them will end up feeling unfulfilled in their chosen careers, their lives, or both. They're unfulfilled because most schools are falling short when it comes to decoding youth's biggest question: "What do I want to do with my life?" I see it every day working with young people through my initiatives YOUniversityHub.com and Leap-Start.com. We need to take responsibility beyond our standardised curriculums.

Whether you agree or disagree with these issues and proposed solutions isn't what matters most to me. What matters most is that we're in the middle of an educational revolution - so let's make the most of it.