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Education should be seen as a life-long process

The International Baccalaureate (IB) will be hosting its annual African Education Festival in Johannesburg, South Africa on 27 – 28 February 2020 under the theme of Leading and Learning in the 21st Century, with a special focus on “Inspire, Innovate, Integrate”.

Wandile Mthiyane will deliver a keynote on curating education that is interdisciplinary, experiential and practical.
Wandile Mthiyane will deliver a keynote on curating education that is interdisciplinary, experiential and practical.

Wandile Mthiyane is a social entrepreneur, founder, and CEO of Ubuntu Design Group.  During his keynote, he will draw on his personal journey with education and take a deeper look at how architecture can unravel greatness in our future leaders. In this blog article, he also explains the power of education and how you can use it to change the status quo.

What skills do you think our future great leaders need to succeed in the 21st century?

Firstly, we need to establish the challenges and opportunities brought forth by the fourth industrial revolution. One development is more efficient production at cheaper costs, however, the challenge this brings is the loss of traditional conveyor belt type jobs. Therefore, it is important for future leaders to identify and strengthen the unique human skillsets and qualities that we use at work.

Furthermore, artificial intelligence is amazing, but it does not have a soul; it cannot relate or have empathy for others, and it lacks that human interaction that we intrinsically have from birth. I think that is where future leaders will flourish. Having the ability to lead from an angle of relationships and treating challenges with a personal touch will be crucial as we move into the 21st Century.

In your opinion, what type of curriculum will bring out the best in students?

There is often a glaring disconnect between what students are taught at school versus the knowledge they’re expected to have in the workplace, and this is often the result of a theoretically rigid curriculum. I believe that we need to curate education that’s interdisciplinary, experiential and practical. This type of education enables practical outlets for students to test out lessons that they learn in school, in the workplace or in a mock-workplace setting depending on the risk involved in that field.

We need to establish an explorative educational system that prepares learners to be critical thinkers and problem-solvers rather than preparing them for one specific skill or position that might be obsolete by the time they graduate. Most importantly, students need an education that combines:

Technical skills

Soft skills

Our educational system needs to move away from the prescriptive, competitive, individualistic approach and towards an explorative, collaborative and discretionary way of learning.

How do you think the learning environment—from school buildings to the classroom itself—can influence students’ learning experiences?

Winston Churchill put it best when he said: “We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us”. For a creative person, sensory awareness plays a huge role in the way inspiration and ideas filter through. It is the same scenario with medical students; the educational environment is simulated to match the hospital environment. Learning spaces do not only influence how well students are able to learn, but they also psychologically prepare students for the workplace and the problems they’ll have to solve.

“Behind every president is a grade school teacher or a local soccer coach who made them believe they could achieve more.”

As technology advances and shapes more and more of the work we do, a lot of companies have changed the way they design their offices. Google is the most popular example: the company has redesigned its office to make employees feel at home. There are multiple opportunities to learn, play or even meditate and this has increased the employee retention rate, their productivity and quality of life.

On the other hand, our school buildings still look like they did back in the industrial revolution even though we’ve learned things about colour theory and design that enhance learning and quality of life. This lack of change is stifling students’ growth and potential. Design is one of the key things schools need to start thinking about as they look to renovate or revamp the learning experience for students.

Founder and CEO of Ubuntu Design Group, Wandile - Credits: Medium
Founder and CEO of Ubuntu Design Group, Wandile - Credits: Medium

How can communities and shared spaces and places support young people’s educational journeys?

I believe in the Zulu concept of Ubuntu which means “I am because we are.” This concept beautifully describes that we’re all interdependent and that we need each other for our personal and professional growth. Behind every president is a grade school teacher or a local soccer coach who made them believe they could achieve more, and it’s for this very reason that we need to start seeing education as a life-long process that’s not confined to the classroom walls.

Historically, the interweaving between elders and the younger generation in South Africa has created a learning chain that teaches young people not to make the same mistakes as their forerunners whilst teaching the older generation about new technology and keeping them up to speed with current trends. To build strong educational journeys for our learners, we need to build strong community participation programs in our curriculum.

I think it’s vital for us to shape an educational system rooted in places and local community projects that will nudge students to interact with their community while they learn and grow from engaging with their neighbours, elders, and spaces. Engagement opportunities like this will help students master their interpersonal skills such as compassion, negotiation, and cooperation, and this in turn will prepare them for jobs of the future.

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