On Tuesday I attended an interesting conference at the Institute of Education in London. The keynote speaker noted that 6 of the fastest growing economies are in Africa, where they have very young populations. However, their universities are poor at producing knowledge as they have low research resources. The trend is for new courses rather than more established, traditional university programmes but attention is being paid to setting up centres of excellence there.
I was especially interested in the presentations on curriculum and pedagogy. Critical thinking was the main point of discussion and it was stated that there is little evidence of critical thinking skills outside the Western world. This then furthers the debate on Western concepts being forced on other societies, but it becomes a challenge when we have learners on our courses from these non-Western societies. It was suggested that small class sizes, projects and individual attention would all help develop critical thinking, which is valuable for knowledge economies.
Education is not reflecting the needs of Arab labour markets and this is also creating a problem, but the presenter recommended a design thinking process: observation, ideation, prototyping, testing and implementing. This is not far off the action research process we have in our DET course. It was also said that Arab countries are not making use of the digital technology they already have in place, to encourage innovation and entrepreneurship. As they are moving towards a knowledge economy, the Arab countries need to have more research from qualitative data so they can make informed decisions about educational reform. It seems as though there are lots of challenges ahead for the education world.