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Education

Bridging Skills and Opportunities

Innovative programs are addressing the educational disconnect in the developing world.

How do we help young people develop the life skills they need to flourish in this new world? Bill Drayton posed this question during the most recent Skoll World Forum. Thanks to new technologies, disruptive innovations, and charismatic changemakers, the world is evolving, but existing educational systems in developing countries aren’t keeping up, and thus threaten economic progress and development.

I was recently a Peace Corps volunteer in Guinea—a country that ranks 178th out of 187 on the United Nations’ Human Development Index. According to the Ministry of Youth, 70 percent of Guineans under 25, regardless of their education, are unemployed due to “a disconnect between the Guinean economy's needs and the training and education offered to youth.” A recent conference of socially responsible Guinean business leaders cited inadequate training for existing market opportunities as an area of concern for the country’s youth.

Developed and implemented in partnership with Guinean community members, two programs aim to address this disconnect between training and opportunity: the Youth Entrepreneurship Training Program (YETP) and Dare to Innovate. YETP is a curriculum that introduces students to the basics of entrepreneurship, providing them with tools to open or expand business ventures on their own. While data on the success of this project is just beginning to emerge, a sampling of students from Kindia, the country’s third-largest city, indicated that 33 percent of program graduates had successfully started an income-generating activity after 3 months. An additional 38 percent were in an active research or planning phase. Leveraging YETP, Peace Corps volunteers identified and trained dynamic youth within their communities to launch the Dare to Innovate movement. The mission of Dare to Innovate is to create a community of socially minded individuals and entrepreneurs that fosters idea exchange, and knowledge- and resource-sharing to catalyze and promote social entrepreneurship in Guinea.

Working with these youth, it is evident that they have the motivation and intelligence to succeed, but they need information and inspiration. Our first step toward filling this gap was to host a conference. Partnering with Gulay Ozkan, who specializes in design-driven entrepreneurship, and experts in experiential learning, the conference introduced participants to a breadth of new tools and schools of thought. This approach leveraged human-centered facilitation techniques such as Open Space and Future Search—methodologies that have been used around the world to address social issues—which allowed them to see potential instead of problems and opportunities rather than obstacles, and then transform their ideas into actionable possibilities.

There are other programs addressing the growing educational disconnect in Africa and emerging economies, too. Uganda’s Educate! program model focuses on propelling a cycle of change by training and mentoring young leaders and entrepreneurs, and supporting the development and launch of their ventures. And in The Gambia, the Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education introduced a program with Peace Corps volunteers (led by the New Jersey Center for Teaching and Learning) to integrate the use of interactive, computer-connected whiteboards in classrooms. Linda Murgatroyd, program manager of Peace Corps The Gambia Education, explains, “The project has its own curriculum and uses Smart Boards and responders to display information, pose questions, and provide immediate feedback to teachers. The methods are interactive, and students work in groups to solve problems.” The program is not only introducing new technologies, but also finding new ways of teaching and facilitating learning that differ from the traditional “talk and chalk.”

Another example of innovation in this area comes from Sugata Mitra, an acclaimed proponent of creating “solutions that complement the framework of traditional schooling” and winner of this year’s TED Talk Prize. Mitra’s Hole-in-the-Wall educational experiments left unsupervised, English-language, Internet-connected computers in neighborhoods of New Delhi, and later in two rural villages in India. Demonstrating “the natural curiosity of children to catalyze learning,” children in these neighborhoods taught themselves English, computer programming, and even the biotechnology of DNA replication. Now the program seeks “to create a new paradigm in the learning process by providing unrestricted computer access to groups of children in an open playground setting.”

Whether it’s through changing educational systems or creating structures that complement existing systems, we must focus on introducing new skills to students through educational approaches that are better adapted to our changing world. We should seek to use immersive environments and programs, and introduce critical thinking, creativity, and empathy into the rigid, traditional schooling that is dominant in the developing world today.

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