When Sizwe Nxasana speaks about the future of education, you listen

“We just have to look at high-paying jobs today that didn’t exist 10 years ago, in order to understand that, according to WEF, 65 percent of students entering primary school today will ultimately end up working in completely new job types that don't yet exist,” said Sizwe Nxasana, founder of Future Nation Schools, Chairman of both the National Education Collaboration Trust and National Student Financial Aid Scheme, while speaking on the future of education at the first Singularity University South Africa Summit. Sizwe is also one of the founders of SizweNtsalubaGobodo and a former Firstrand CEO. “Yet our education system is still based in the architecture of the 19th and 20th century,” he continued.

South Africa needs to rethink its education system and adopt a vastly different approach to learning in order to adequately equip students for the future in the digital age. These are some of the fundamentals that need to be addressed, according to Nxasana.

Free access to the internet

The internet should be a free, basic human right. All children should have free access to data and information. Meeting that first critical step will enable the next step by teaching coding from an early age and incorporating technology-related lessons into a future-proof curriculum. With that kind of foundation and experience, students will be able to programme robots later in their school careers.

The internet is driving technological disruption in education. It has the ability to enable interactive classrooms that promote self-paced learning, according to the learners' ability. Remote learning is also possible with the advancements of technology, as students do not have to be in a classroom in order to learn. The rate of e-learning needs to increase.

Problem-solving skills and character-building

Education is not just about acquiring skills. The way in which students are taught needs to be realigned, so as to teach them skills that will enable them to be active participants in this journey of disruptive technology that is affecting human development.

Many get lost in the massive amounts of information that the internet generates. They spend their days trawling through the information but cannot see the wood for the trees. They do not have the critical faculties to analyse the information and have insufficient time to reflect on it.

In an age of exponential change, the ability to memorise information should not be equated with intelligence. Students should not be tested using standardised tests that check progress and ability based on age and rote learning. Instead, there needs to be a reassessment of how human development is measured. Students need to have their critical cognitive faculties developed and be taught problem-solving skills, so they may implement their knowledge in real-world scenarios.

Character-building is just as important as building skill sets. Students need to be taught how to have grace, how to be resilient, and how to distinguish between right and wrong. While their computational, critical, technological and comprehension skills are being developed, there also needs to be a focus on building upright members of society.

Quality education through quality teachers

Quality education comes from quality educators. Teaching needs to become a highly respected and well-paid profession that will attract the smartest individuals.

In a connected and digitally enabled classroom, the teacher is no longer the sole source of knowledge. Instead, they become a facilitator and students become active and engaged participants.

Future Nations Schools has developed an integrated pedagogy, across the board, where teachers have widespread and varied knowledge that goes beyond the subjects they teach. This will ensure that students are not taught in silos.

Projects that incorporate wide and varied skill sets should be assigned, so that students learn writing and researching skills, as well as the valuable social skills acquired by being involved in a group dynamic, and also develop their presentation and communication skills.

Decolonise the education landscape

In a context where knowledge is power, epistemology needs to be revisited to promote indigenous knowledge, culture and beliefs that will give rise to indigenous solutions to our unique challenges. The solutions have always been there, they just have not been documented. If we are not careful in how we develop African knowledge systems, we will be the subjects of other people, who see opportunities at our doorstep. We need to change this as Africans, policy makers, government and entrepreneurs.

By documenting indigenous knowledge systems, we may offer solutions to the world's problems. Then African will be part of this fourth industrial revolution, not as subjects being acted upon but as people part of solution solving the world's problems.

Nxasana was speaking to an audience of policy makers, academics, corporates, entrepreneurs, and investors at the inaugural Singularity University South Africa Summit in collaboration with Standard Bank, global partners Deloitte and strategic partners MTN and SAP. The two-day summit focused on how exponential technologies will transform various sectors and will help to #futureproofAfrica.

By Iga Motylska