A rolling stone gathers no moss. This moral maxim is credited to Publilius Syrus, a Syrian brought to Italy as a slave but who, due to his wit and talent, was freed and educated by his master.
At the time, the proverb meant that people who are always moving, with no roots in one place or another, avoid responsibilities and cares. Its modern meaning is that a person must stay active to avoid stagnation.
I find the meanings of the proverb analogous to Africa’s education systems. We have always moved from one system to another, with no roots in one place or another and have for the most part avoided responsibilities.
Our failure to dynamically reform the curriculum to be in tandem with the rest of the world means that stagnation will be the other adjective in describing Africa.
The moral of Publilius’ story is, like the wit that took him out of slavery to getting an education that made him a great writer, Africa should muscle its knowledge to free itself from the vestiges of colonialism so that it can face the world on its own terms. The 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR) therefore becomes the test of our will to change from the dependencies of the past to facing the future with courage and determination.
That will require us to follow the footsteps of Asian countries that have moved from abject poverty to wealthy nations in a short period of time. Now, they can compete with their erstwhile masters on almost equal terms.
South Korea has, within half a century, moved from a war-torn country to become a major competitor of Japan, which once colonised the Korean Peninsula.Change is inevitable.
Perhaps the discourse we should precipitate is: What exactly does 4IR means to Africa? This will form the basis of reforming our curricula. Otherwise, in the coming days, effective knowledge and skills will be in short supply.
The World Economic Forum described 4IR as characterised by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres, collectively referred to as cyber-physical systems.
It is also marked by emerging technology breakthroughs in a number of fields, including robotics, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, quantum computing, biotechnology, the Internet of Things, Blockchain, fifth-generation wireless technologies (5G), additive manufacturing/3D printing and fully autonomous vehicles.
New curricula must, therefore, seek to respond to these emerging areas of knowledge, which bring new challenges with respect to the future of work. With these technologies, human beings have simply been promoted to largely doing the work of creativity and innovation.
To build a creative mind, we will not just change the curriculum but also adopt pedagogical methods that build curiosity within a very short period of time. To Kenya’s credit, the introduction of competence-based learning will address some of the challenges that face many countries.
The challenge, however, is how to ramp up capacity of teachers in a short period. Small startups in Nairobi such as Elewa are rushing to provide the necessary technology that will help the government to build the necessary capacity to cope with the new curriculum.
Unfortunately, universities and colleges, which should be part of the solution, spend more time debating mundane issues like the appointment of administrators than research. We have failed in changing university curricula that will make our graduates employable.
Moving from the shackles of colonial remnants, like Publilius moved out of slavery requires, nothing short of intellect. In my view, it is not the government to tell universities what to do rather it is the universities through research that should be informing governments how to approach the future of learning.
African people are faced with imminent danger of being left behind once more. And if that happens, our fate will be sealed and we shall be confined into oblivion.