The chief task of an education curriculum is this: to prepare learners for life, so that they can innovate solutions to the problems they may encounter in their day-to-day life. Learning must, therefore, be practical. Let’s borrow and adapt a Zen story to figure out how we can achieve this with the ongoing educational reforms.
Two investors wanted to bid for 10,000 acres of prime land for large-scale farming. However, a situation arose. There was a conflict regarding the ownership of this land. Two people lay claim to it, each with a “legal” deed. The two interested investors could not tell who the rightful owner of the land was.
This is a common scenario where institutional systems have been compromised. This situation created a hitch that had to be dealt with satisfactorily before any business could be transacted. It was important to avert a possible legal tussle that could lead to substantial losses. How did each investor go about this tricky situation?
The first investor was well established. He was the managing director of his big company. High-powered executives served as his board members. The top management and the board retreated to a coastal hotel to deliberate on a plausible strategy. The investor had powerful business networks across the region. Resources for this company were not a big deal.
The second investor was a Form Four graduate. She was running a medium enterprise. There is nothing much to write about her establishment. How did she fare in executing this deal? Was this an unwinnable battle? Was she outmatched? Was this game way out of her league? Probably yes. Probably not.
The established investor and his board members put together a team of dynamic lawyers. The brief to their assignment was clear: they were to work with the Ministry of Lands office and search every active and archived record, both digital and manual to establish the rightful owner of this tract of land.
The lawyers were advanced half the amount of their legal fee. The total payment amounted to more than half the cost of the land. The stakes were high, and the big-time investor was willing to pay any amounts to become the rightful owner of the estate. He was certain that the return on investment was worth the risk. With his wide business network, he was optimistic that due diligence in the delicate process would resolve the legal tussle in his favour. He knew that his competitor had no capacity to expedite such a process. So he thought! His theorist tactic demonstrates the approach that a wholly academic and knowledge-based education system trains learners to adopt in real life situations. Of course, there is always a place for it depending on the task at hand and the context.
What was the approach of the medium entrepreneur? Like the big investor, you have probably disregarded her ability to execute the deal. And you are right. She was outmatched, but only in terms of putting together a thinktank and eloquent lawyers to strategise and execute the deal.
Being streetwise, she met the two individuals who lay claim to the land. Separately. She bought the land from each one of them and paid their asking price. Incontestably she paid twice, but the legal tussle was over. Remember that the big-time investor spent almost a similar amount. The legal fee and the top management retreat were cost factors in the process.
The medium entrepreneur accomplished this considerable feat within a span of hours. The land was hers! She chose not to play the game by the book but settled the deal in her favour. It is possible that by the time she concluded the deal, the high-powered lawyers were drafting and re-drafting their letter to seek an appointment at the Ministry of Lands office.
What is the moral lesson of this story? Schools reopened this January. The Ministry of Education (MoE) is rolling out the competence-based curriculum (CBC) in Grade four. This new learning system is expected to develop 21st century skills in learners. The success of this mission will highly depend on the learning approach that will be adopted by teachers, parents, guardians, and the community. Granted, the CBC emphasises parental and community engagement in the formal and non-formal learning activities.
Depending on the approach adopted in an education structure, the learning system can develop theorists, pragmatists, activists, or reflectors. These learning styles were developed by education researchers Peter Honey and Alan Mumford.
Activists learn by doing. They try things out. They engage in experiences, problems and opportunities. Pragmatists apply the knowledge learnt in the real world. They are practical and deal with the problem at hand. Reflectors prefer to stand back and observe experiences from different perspectives before making a considered opinion.
Theorists, on the other hand, study facts, analyse concepts, apply theories, and eventually draw conclusions. They are likely to study a swimming manual rather than jump into the pool. We have also heard the common joke in academic circles that entrepreneurship courses are taught by theorists who do not even own a kiosk. Nonetheless, the above is an uncomplicated explanation of the Honey and Mumford learning styles.
In this 21st century, we must strive to develop engaged and pragmatic learners. Indeed, the mission of the CBC is to nurture engaged, empowered, and ethical citizens. Just like the medium entrepreneur, a pragmatic individual is empowered to deal with issues and events sensibly, practically, and realistically. He or she is skilful, wise, thoughtful, and calculating. The narration illustrates how a pragmatist and a theorist would play out their game when caught up in a problematic business situation.
As parents, guardians, teachers, and community leaders, let’s seek out opportunities to help learners develop innovative tools that they can use to solve difficult situations they may encounter from time to time. The CBC learning materials developed and approved for use provide for this kind of learning and engagement process.
Dr Njoroge works in the education sector as a curriculum interpreter and a content developer. [email protected]