What is education? It can be defined as the wise, hopeful and respectful cultivation of learning undertaken in the belief that all should have a chance to share in life (Mark K Smith, What is education? A definition and discussion).
When last did you hear anyone say hopeful and respectful when talking about education in Lesotho? This is because our education systems follow a different conception of education – one that is a insolent, forced and illogical transfer of “knowledge.”
It seems nobody cares enough to change the content of our schools’ syllabi. Nothing is contemporary: instead of studying history to learn from it, it seems we only study it to relive it. Nothing is context-specific about Lesotho’s education nor is it aligned to the present age. Unfortunately, many of our graduates come out of tertiary institutions only to realize that their credentials are irrelevant in the contemporary world of work.
Even while several thousands of graduates roaming the streets without any prospects of employment, it seems no one really cares. Like many African countries, our programs remain stagnant and so when Mr. COVID-19 showed up at our doors, we found ourselves wildly unprepared to face the aftermath. Our education cocoons immediately unraveled.
Perhaps in our case there is a misunderstanding of education that explains how our academic syllabi have become obsolete. More specifically, our higher learning curriculum are neither market-responsive nor do they capture today’s realities. If anything, they are more like history classes. With crises such as COVID-19 outbreak, can we continue to rely on the approach and content of our current curriculums to ensure that we thrive as societies?
Here’s what Mark Smith has said about education: ‘When talking about education, people often confuse it with schooling. Many think of places like schools or colleges when seeing or hearing the word. They might also look to particular jobs like teacher or tutor. The problem with this is that while looking to help people learn, the way a lot of schools operate is not necessarily something we can properly call education.’
Unfortunately, our schools fall into that classification and the way they operate cannot rightly be deemed as educational. They continue to, in a sense, force fish to climb trees and birds to swim. Our policy-makers— many of whom have never taught a class themselves— continue to prescribe syllabi that fail to appreciate that people have different strengths and aspirations.
Worse yet, academic content fails to accommodate the inevitability of natural disasters. The presence of this current pandemic has undermined all our education systems and centers combined. The education of the future must shy away from this one-size-fits-all ruse if they are going to be relevant to the needs and demands of a changing world.
Now, let’s look at Finland as a case in point. The European nation has the most market-responsive and 21st century-ready education systems. This explains a great deal of why it is where it is as a nation. Their education systems clearly ridicule ours: while ours continue to seemingly prepare us for the past, theirs successfully respond to today.
Finland’s education policy outlook (2013) notes: Finnish society and its education system place great importance on their schools and day-care facilities and trust the proficiency of their school leaders, teachers and educational staff, with no national standardized tests or high-stakes evaluation. Teaching is a highly appreciated profession, and teachers are required to have a master’s degree that includes research and practice-based studies.
In comparison, Lesotho’s education is largely characterized by a competitive vs. collaborative atmosphere which only suffocates the creative capacity of its students. Sadly, in our case, teaching is a lightly-regarded profession. Very little or no freedom is given to teachers and their proficiency is unquestionably undermined as evidenced by the degree of motivation amongst them and the level of government support they receive.
Remo Moreira Brito Bastos highlights the following in The surprising success of the Finnish educational system in a global scenario of commodified education: ‘Prior to the release of the results of the first round of the PISA tests, on December 2001, there was a general agreement that countries regarded as world reference in education, such as the United States, Germany and France, to name a few, enjoyed educational systems which provided their students with superior instruction, which would entail excellence in academic performance and consistent learning, ranking themselves among the best in the world.
National indicators of the area — educational attainment, its proportion of investment as a share of the national product, percentage of people with a higher education degree — besides the success of its students in national and international academic competitions, such as Olympics in Physics, Mathematics, Computing, Chemistry and Biology, for example, reinforced and confirmed the common sense of the quality of those educational systems.
The dissemination of these results has shaken the world’s academic and political status quo.’
This is another background that shames our schools. What led to the disappointing state of our existing education systems and how can we learn from our current situation? If we want to imagine our systems become as relevant and efficient as Finland’s, for example, we will have to really consider reforming our educational landscapes.
In The New Educational Curriculum In Finland, Irmeli Halinen highlights that, from 2014–2017 Finland reformed the national core curricula at all levels of education: early childhood, pre-primary, basic (primary + lower secondary), and upper secondary. As a result, the core curricula now form a coherent line throughout the entire education system. The aims of the reforms were to build on the strengths of the Finnish education system and, at the same time, to meet the challenges of a rapidly changing and complex world.
It will take the same level of reforms to secure the relevance of our education systems. For many who think this is too costly, it is about time we looked at the much higher cost of not reforming. We now live in the world of COVID-19 and many of his companions. We cannot afford to be unprepared for similar circumstances in the future so we need to re-evaluate the present outputs of our schools.
‘The leading principle in the Finnish educational thinking is that equal and high-quality education is the best way to respect children and childhood, and to build a sustainable future for both individuals and the whole country,’ wrote Irmeli Halinen. ‘The purpose of education is to promote life-long and life-wide learning, holistic development and well-being of all learners, as well as to improve their skills for living in a sustainable way.’
It is time to abort ship. COVID-19 just came to remove the veil from our eyes. We have got to rethink education. Our country has got large masses that we so boldly present and often talk about as “the unemployed”. Isn’t it a shame that our education systems are not helping students create change for themselves and their communities?