You know the saying, ‘if it isn’t broke don’t fix it’? Education appears to be broken across many nations from first world to emerging. So why are we not collaborating more, disrupting more and build stuff that works.
In 2011, in a public-private partnership between IBM, the New York City Department of Education and City University of New York, a new six-year Brooklyn high school program was launched. It knitted together educators and job creators, and gave kids not only a high school degree, but a two-year associates degree and a job guarantee at one of the country’s top blue chip firms, IBM.
According to TIME magazine, the last great national leap forward in secondary education was during the post-World War II period, when state governments decided that high school education, previously optional, should be mandatory.
The first school to run the P-TECH (Pathways in Technology) program, was a run-down school in a low-income area. Giving low-income students the chance to earn an Associate’s degree, essentially acquiring two years of free college tuition, is at the core of the model’s design.
“What’s very clear to me is that high school education as it is envisioned today isn’t sufficient for the modern workplace, or the modern economy,” Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel was quoted as saying. Emanuel decided to launch six P-tech schools of his own after reading about former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s success working with IBM in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights neighbourhood.
P-TECH despite some critics, is graduating students. 100 students from Brooklyn, N.Y., and Chicago, have graduated from the P-TECH program this summer (in the USA) with both their high school diplomas and their associate degrees in STEM. In fact, many of the scholars who participated in P-TECH, a grade 9 to grade 14 model, completed their six-year program early, some in under just four years. Many are the first in their families to earn a college degree. P-Tech has grown from one school in 2011 to 80 schools in 2017.
If we turn our attention to South Africa and the multiple job creation programs, we experience the exact same problem where high school is no longer sufficient qualification for the modern workplace. Many good programs, focused on job creation, have gained corporate commitment but are unable to place young applicants due to lack of qualifications. Further amplifying the problem is the dropout rate prior to completing high school.
We need to rethink education systems and do that in collaborative partnerships with those creating the jobs and requiring the skills.
Over the past two years we’ve been developing a collaborative platform around pan-African education, A Better Africa. What we’ve discovered along the way is that there is no lack of funding for education. In South Africa, the government spends more than R200bn per annum on education while the private sector spends R5bn. The problem, in part, lies in the fact that many programs and initiatives happen in silos. With more collaboration, the impact could be amplified.
Here’s a simple and actual example. A large multinational has expressed interest in running a STEM program across some schools, with a focus on young women. The team from A Better Africa, challenged the corporate and asked what would happen when the programme reached an end. We correctly assumed that it had a finite duration. What we shared with the corporate entity was a picture of the ecosystem, where multiple corporates engaging in STEM could collaborate and have their programs run sequentially. This would mean that a group of young women who showed an aptitude for STEM has a chance to progress from a primary program to a secondary and then tertiary program and possibly an internship, all through a collaborative ecosystem.
We are in the collaborative era where individuals, businesses and groups experience a growing understanding that collaboration will have a multiplier effect, where the pooling of ideas, sometimes from those who see themselves as competitors, will often produce exponential impact. Education is of course just one area where collaboration will drive change.
Janice Scheckter is a collaboration activist, managing director of Indigo New Media and a director of A Better Africa currently working with the Contribution Compass Team in collaboration with Ann Baret Coaching.