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The Challenges Of The Twenty First Century Education Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Education
Wordcount: 5441 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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This chapter reviews the relevant literature used in this study in a thematic and systematic manner. It begins with reviewing texts related to the contemporary local and global challenges. It then discusses the national goals of education in Kenya relating them to the demands of the 21st century. Teacher education in Kenya is then reviewed and finally the system of education in Kenya is examined.

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2.2.0 The challenges of the twenty first century

The 21st Century has been conceived as: The age of ‘Globalization’, the age of ‘Knowledge Economy’, and the ‘Information age’. Globalization refers to the contemporary social reality, which is characterized by change, uncertainty, unpredictability, complexity, interdependence and diversity. According to Giddens (1990) and Albrow (1994), it refers to the process by which human relations are increasingly being intensified. As a result, economic, political, cultural and social distinctions are becoming less and less inhibitive. Advancement, especially in the information and telecommunication sectors has compressed time and space and the world is gradually becoming a borderless forum for human interaction popularly known as the global village.

The educational challenges in a globalized world include:

ensuring that learners acquire the technological skills that enable them to access the global information and telecommunication networks,

transforming learner attitudes and dispositions to enable them adapt to change and uncertainty,

fostering character traits in learners that make them functional in a cross-cultural and democratic setting. Such traits include open-mindedness, tolerance and intellectual autonomy,

enhancing learner’s capacity and attitude to think critically and creatively.

Knowledge has become the most important factor in economic development in a globalized world, hence the use of the term “Knowledge economy” to refer to the contemporary global economy. Consequently, “the ability of a society to produce, select, adapt, commercialise, and use knowledge is critical for sustained economic growth and improved living standards” (World Bank, 2002). Education needs to go beyond merely informing learners. Learners have to be enabled to learn on their own, make sense of and apply knowledge innovatively. Learners, therefore, need to take charge of their thinking and direct it towards solving problems as wells as formulating and pursuing desired goals. Information and telecommunication technologies that facilitate and support knowledge-based activities have become extremely useful. Information has become easily accessible with the use of the internet hence the use of the term “information age” to refer to the 21st century. Merely consuming information uncritically is dangerous in a globalized age. Education should therefore enable learners to select, interrogate, evaluate and utilize information efficiently.

2.2.1 The global challenges

According to Haag (1982) education systems in the world have expanded quantitatively rather than qualitatively making them unable to address current social problems. Although a lot of resources have been devoted to education, it appears like the systems of education have been ineffective in addressing social ills like inequality, intolerance, resistance to change, crime and violation of human rights among others. These social ills manifest themselves in rising levels of poverty, ethnic and racial conflicts and violation of human rights in many parts of the world. Ward and McCotter (2004) argue that developing thinking skills in educational institutions, though necessary, is inhibited by inappropriate teaching methods used by teachers, ineffective evaluation procedures and rigorous overload of the curriculum. Other negative factors include ineffective educational policies that emphasize content and structure of education while neglecting quality and process of education. Jelinek (1978) refers to the dominant expository methods of instruction as didacticism in which it is assumed that education is an act of depositing knowledge into learners who are mere depositories. The process of instruction is lifeless, petrified, motionless, static and compartmentalised and thus strange to the experience of the learners. The approach is irrelevant to reconstruction of the experience of the learners since they are considered to know nothing. Ultimately the approach tends to turn humans into automatons and therefore negates their dignity and abilities as human beings. Without development of thinking skills, graduates from educational institutions are observed to be limited in analytical, creative and innovative abilities that are essential in the modern knowledge based world of work.

Leat (1999) blames inability of education systems to address contemporary challenges on faulty academic cultures and traditions. For instance, attainment of good grades and certificates using whatever means is valued as opposed to transformation of learners into effective agents of change in society. Unhealthy competition among learners is tolerated instead of developing the culture of cooperation and mutual responsibility. Rigid adherence to existing academic cultures inhibits ability to respond to change. Unhealthy competition among learners promotes antagonism and undermines team spirit. According to Perkins (1990) the culture in most educational institutions is characterized by minimal informative feedback and emphasis on traditional ways of doing things. This diminishes the exercise of individual initiative and choice. Consequently learners are denied an opportunity to develop essential characteristic of democratic citizenship. Such characteristics include respect for dialogue, freedom of expression and self-determination through individual choice.

Barrow et al. (2006) reports that a study done in India revealed that the main challenges facing teacher education include meeting children’s specific learning needs, respecting students’ cultural and socio-economic context and involving parents and communities in school activities. The teachers therefore require interpersonal and counseling skills that can enable them to empathetically discern the learning needs of pupils. The teachers also need to be able to deal with diversity of learners and forge school-community collaboration. Douglass (2006) perceives preparation of employable graduates as the main challenge of education in the 21st century. According to him, emphasis on employability has led to other challenges. For instance, there are sharp divisions between scientific-technological academic disciplines on the one hand and social science and humanities on the other. He argues that there is an overemphasis on the value of scientific-technological disciplines leading to bifurcation of knowledge. According to NCCPPE(2008), the main challenges that education must confront in the world today include: conservation of the environment and sustainability of natural resources; the provision of health care; renewal of economic vitality; coping with change through learning; promoting core human values like justice, peace and equity and protecting human rights.

This study endeavoured to find out the extent to which global challenges mentioned above impact on Kenya. It further sought to establish whether and how the system of PTE in Kenya was responsive to them. The study also designed a framework by which the challenges can be classified for effective examination. For instance, the following categories of challenges among others were be included in the framework: cognitive, cultural, political, social, emotional, economic, ethical, technological, and religious. Cognitive challenges include obstacles that hinder effective thinking. Such obstacles render learners incapable of analytical, evaluative and creative thinking. Such learners merely copy and reproduce the ideas of other people without being sensitive to context. Cultural challenges include stereotypes and prejudices that are embodied in traditions and norms of particular social groups. These traditions are passed on from one generation to another without critical scrutiny. In addition cultural beliefs and practices tend to be ethnocentric. As such they promote conflicts and misunderstanding among social groups. Political challenges include ideologies and policies that are designed to facilitate acquisition and maintenance of political power. Often such ideologies are propagated in a competitive way without regard to sufficient analysis, evaluation and fair-mindedness.

Social challenges include the need to accommodate diversity in the contemporary setting that is increasingly becoming multicultural. There is need for tolerance, open-mindedness and humility in interpersonal interactions. Emotional challenges have to do with inability to understand and deal with one’s own feeling as well as the feelings of others. This is especially so in a social context that is dynamic, uncertain and stressful. Economic challenges include scarcity of resources and controversial methods of distributing the resources. These challenges are compounded by the increasing needs and wants characterised by the consumerist lifestyles. Ethical challenges arise from disagreements on principles of right and wrong leading to ethical relativism. Such relativism makes moral values difficult to apply across board leading to ethical confusion.

Technological challenges include inability to control and manage the use of technology in a way that benefits society without endangering wellbeing. Such challenges include checking abuse of the internet, regulating the mass media and ensuring that nuclear technology does not get into the hands of terrorists. Religious challenges include animosity among different faiths that sometimes expresses itself in overt violent practices. Religious fanatics often engage in breach of human rights and criminal activities in the name of God. All these challenges cannot be effectively addressed unless education empowers the learners and society at large to think for themselves, analyse and evaluate issues, question beliefs and claims as well as develop the ability to creatively solve problems.

2.2.2 The challenges in Africa

Assie’-Lumumba (2006) perceives the debt burden, ethnic violence, armed conflicts and the scourge of HIV and AIDS as the most visible challenges that impact education in Africa. What is needed is an education system that can empower Africans to participate in the production and application of knowledge relevant in addressing these challenges and promote broad societal advancement. In Ghana, the need to develop thinking skills among learners has been recognized as a viable way of addressing contemporary challenges facing Africa. However in practice, the development of such skills has not been given adequate attention (Acheampong, 2001; Hill, 2000). There exists a mismatch between the professed value of thinking skills in education and actual efforts to develop such skills in teacher training institutions. According to Owu-Ewie (2007), classroom environment in many educational institutions in Ghana inhibit thinking in students. The teachers have been observed to be autocratic and rigid in imposing their views on students. The opinions of students are disrespected and discarded thus discouraging learner participation, curiosity and creativity. Teachers make poor use of questioning and motivation and use the lecture method predominantly. The education system fosters rote learning, drilling and exam orientation. Such a system does not facilitate a healthy teacher-learner interaction.

According to Barrow et al (2006), studies done in Namibia and Nigeria reveal additional challenges facing education in Africa. In Namibia, although educational policies are strongly based on active learning and learner-centered theoretical foundation, in practice, these lofty theories are not effectively implemented. The educational policies are poorly understood, interpreted and executed. The study findings support school-based teacher professional development programs, associated with whole-school improvement programs, as very promising ways of increasing understanding and effective implementation of active-learning policies. In Nigeria, religious tensions and economic empowerment are the challenges that education needs to address. Teachers have therefore to be empowered to facilitate inter-faith harmony, creativity and self-reliance among learners. In Ethiopia, poor quality of education, insufficient financing, lack of equity and poor management are the key challenges facing education (Ethiopian National Agency for UNESCO, 2001). Consequently, the ongoing educational reform encompasses every aspect of the educational system- the curricula, teacher training, educational inputs, educational finance, organization and management, structure of education, career structure of teachers, and evaluation. The reform is aimed at total restructuring of the educational system. This study examined the challenges above and related them to those in Kenya and the rest of the world. It also compared the strategies employed to address the challenges with a view to reconstructing a more responsive approach to the challenges relevant to PTE in Kenya.

2.2.3 The challenges in Kenya

In Kenya, some of the 21st century challenges are HIV & AIDS, gender awareness, and sensitivity to human rights (K.I.E., 2004a and 2004b). Others include poverty, crime, drug abuse, and unemployment. These challenges require that education empowers the learner to reflect and respond to them pro-actively. While informing the learners about these problems is important, empowerment of the learner demands a transformation that transcends the cognitive dimension to include all other faculties of the human person. This study explored these non-cognitive dimensions such as the creative, cultural, ethical and social among others.

According to RCE (2007), sustainable development in Kenya (as in any other country) is complex since it encompasses social issues such as peace and security, human rights, gender equality, cultural diversity and intercultural understanding. Other issues include poor governance, corruption, increased incidences of diseases, erosion of cultural values and morals, among others. The economic issues include corporate social responsibility and accountability, ethical marketing, increasing levels of poverty and the widening gap between rich and poor. The other issues include trends of unsustainable production and consumption leading to inefficiency and wastefulness, poor enforcement of policies and regulations governing production and marketing. Environmental challenges include the energy, nutritional and other domestic needs of an expanding population, unsustainable use of natural resources (water, land), rural/urban migration, climate change, rural development, urbanization, disaster prevention and mitigation concerns. This study examines the extent to which these concerns are addressed in PTE with specific reference to pedagogical approaches employed.

Abagi and Odipo (1997) argue that the operation of primary education system in Kenya faces the problem of inefficiency. Low completion rates and national pupil-teacher ratio make inefficiency evident. In addition, teaching-learning time was found not to be utilized efficiently in primary schools. The factors that may be responsible for inefficiencies include: ineffective education policies and management processes, misallocation of resources to various educational levels; school based factors such as teachers’ attitudes, time utilization, school environment; and household based factors such as poverty. The inefficiencies identified above lead one to question the quality and relevance of education in Kenya. While Abagi and Odipo (1997) discuss inefficiency from the point of view of mismatch between resource inputs and desired output in terms of qualified graduates able to contribute to national development, this study explored another dimension of inefficiency which involves discrepancy between pedagogical approaches and the achievement of educational goals and objectives. The focus therefore was on the process of teaching and learning in addition to other material resources employed to pursue the achievement of educational goals and objectives.

2.3.0 Global responsiveness to contemporary issues

Shah, (1997) discusses the implications of globalization in the 21st century which include information revolution, dynamic demand of relevant skills, uncertainty of a borderless world economy, and intense competition among others. He suggests that responsiveness to this reality demands a paradigm shift in the management of human relationships in all spheres of life. Although he takes a political perspective and dwells on how a shift in modes of governance needs to be effected, this study adapts Shah’s ideas to a globalized educational context. For instance the shift from management to leadership in political governance can be equated to the shift from authoritarian teaching to facilitative teaching in education. In both cases, control (of citizens/learners by politicians/teachers) is discouraged while participation, consultation and involvement by all parties is encouraged. This change is so fundamental that Shah refers to it as a “cultural transformation”. He describes it as follows:

The culture of governance is also slowing changing from a bureaucratic to a participatory mode of operation; from command and control to accountability for results; from being internally dependent to being competitive and innovative; from being closed and slow to being open and quick; and from that of intolerance from risk to allowing freedom to fail or succeed (Shah, 1997)

While responsiveness as described above is desirable and even necessary in the world today, it is not easy to accomplish. In developing countries for instance, the reform of the public sector has been attempted in many countries without tangible results. Shah (1997) regards attempts to reform the public sector in many developing countries as an illusion or dream. The command and control orientation is so entrenched that developing a client orientation that emphasizes collaboration and service is difficult to achieve. Consequently human relationships are devoid of a sense of responsibility and mutual respect. Relating these ideas to primary teacher education, responsiveness would mean enabling learners to be self-reliant and self-disciplined as well as actively engaging both teachers and learners as partners in the learning process.

Leithwood et al (1994) assert that modern education systems have to address broader and complex goals, use a diversity of forms of instruction and strategies for learning to cater for diverse clientele as opposed to the traditional youthful learners. In addition, educational institutions will need technical resources to facilitate independent decision making and collaboration with other agencies. Future institutions of education will need greater decentralization of authority, empowerment of staff, and increased accountability to the stake holders they serve. Much effort will be employed to review the content of the curriculum and the process of instruction in order to enhance learning as well as forge useful links between the educational institutions and their environment. Specifically the following responses will be needed:

provision of higher order thinking skills like analysis, evaluation and creativity.

use of flexible client-centred forms of instruction and willingness to collaborate with other educational agencies.

Addressing of cultural, religious and ethnic diversity and tensions and

Increasing respect for the rights of individual, ability, race, age, sex etc which enhances equity as an education goal as well as equal access to knowledge.

Beyer (1997) asserts that the best way to respond to contemporary challenges is to empower learners to learn. This implies facilitation of efficient and effective thinking. Such learning involves careful development of learner inclinations as well as their abilities to think skilfully. Barrow et al. (2006) reports that a research carried out in India suggest that one way of facilitating responsiveness among learners is to create a learning environment in which children are motivated to participate actively and are encouraged to think beyond their own context. This concurs with Beamon’s (1997) and Beyer’s (1997) view that the classroom environment should be motivating and provide opportunities for learners to use their cognitive and creative abilities. In order to develop the thinking skills of learners, the teachers need to use cognitive instruction approaches and learner-centred strategies which stimulate thinking. This study explored such approaches and strategies and endeavoured to find out whether they were being used in PTE in Kenya.

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Kea et al. (2006) recommend multicultural teacher education preparation as a viable way of promoting responsiveness to the challenges of the 21st century. Teachers who have learned culturally responsive pedagogy are believed to be more confident and effective in instructing children from diverse social, cultural, religious and economic backgrounds. Culturally responsive pedagogy involves adapting the content of instruction and teaching styles, curriculum, methodology, and instructional materials responsive to students’ values and cultural norms. Thus, the ultimate challenge for teacher educators is to prepare reflective practitioners who can connect, commit, and practice an ethos of care with diverse students and their families.

According to Douglass (2006), responsiveness to contemporary challenges requires cross-cultural and human rights education. Governments should ensure that their primary and secondary educational systems provide for a balance and integration of national history and identity formation with knowledge of other cultures, religions, and regions. Educational approaches should be suitable for transforming the values of young people, their perceptions and knowledge about other civilizations, cultures and peoples across all regions. Critical thinking should be promoted in order to enhance fair-mindedness and objectivity in a world where information is being generated and disseminated at an amazing rate. Critical thinking is essential for analysing, evaluating and applying information. It is useful in combating misperceptions, prejudices, inaccuracies and outright lies among others. Critical thinking enhances the learner’s ability to separate fact from opinion, to evaluate information for bias, to construct and deconstruct meaning logically and relevantly. Such skills are important for promoting tolerance, mutual respect and responsible citizenship. This study examines the responsive approaches discussed above in the light of the Kenyan context. It aims at developing and recommending a comprehensive proposal of responsive pedagogies for teacher education that are suitable for addressing contemporary issues in Kenya.

According to NCPPHE (2008) the most important educational goal is to facilitate learning by students and the society in general and thus create a learning society. In such a society, learning is a way of life and is therefore life-long. Optimized learning is that which helps strengthen democratic and civic institutions in the nation. This concept of learning extends beyond the education of students in classrooms to include education’s impact on societal organizations, businesses, corporations, and cultures. This view is also adopted by Partnership for the 21st century (2004), which is a conglomeration of public and private partnership focusing on improving education in the 21st century. The partnership reached out to hundreds of educators, business leaders and employers to determine a vision for learning in the 21st century, to reach a consensus on the definition of 21st century skills, knowledge and expertise which will enable learners to thrive in contemporary world. This work endeavoured to bridge the gap between the knowledge and skills most students learn today in school and the knowledge and skills required in the 21st century communities and workplaces.

The critical knowledge and skills identified by Partnership for the 21st century (2004) are learning and innovation skills (creativity and innovation, Critical thinking and problem solving, communication and collaboration), information, media and technology skills (information literacy, media literacy and ICT literacy) as well as life and career skills (flexibility and adaptability, initiative and self-direction, social and cross-cultural skills, productivity and accountability, leadership and responsibility). The partnership also identified interdisciplinary themes which summarises the content that students should learn in the 21st century. These themes include global awareness, civic literacy, health literacy and financial, economic, business and entrepreneurial literacy. This study used these themes, knowledge and skills to evaluate the success of teacher education in Kenya in equipping primary school teachers to prepare pupils for the demands of the 21st century.

2.3.1 Responsiveness to contemporary issues in Africa

According to Barrow et al. (2006) research carried out in Nigeria indicated that responsive approaches in education in Africa should aim at fostering moral values such as patience, tolerance, friendliness, compassion, empathy and fair-mindedness. In addition teaching methods and strategies should create and sustain a stimulating learning environment. Teachers need to use a variety of teaching methods to reach students at different levels of ability. In Namibia, the research recommended teachers’ reflection on their practice in order to seek way of improving teaching and learning. Learner-centred teaching, variation of teaching methods and strategies and positive teacher attributes like kindness and courtesy were also argued to contribute to responsiveness to contemporary issues in education.

Ethiopian National Agency for UNESCO (2001) describes responsive education from the Ethiopian perspective as characterized by access to basic education for all, production of responsible citizens who can solve problems and cooperate with others in productive socio-economic activities. Other characteristics of responsive education include equity, community participation in education, and suitability of academic disciplines to the needs of the country. Quality and quantity need to accompany each other in educational matters; for instance, new educational institutions should be established and the existing ones strengthened in order to produce professionals at a quantity and quality levels that match the requirements of the country.

2.3.2 Responsiveness to contemporary issues in Kenya

In Kenya, attempts at making education responsive to contemporary issues and challenges is reflected in the various educational reports that have been generated since independence (Republic of Kenya, 1964, 1976, 1981, 1988 and 1999). This is evident in the review of the said reports below.

The Ominde Report (Republic of Kenya, 1964) was the first commission of independent Kenya to address matters of education. It made a lasting contribution by articulating, among other issues, the goals of education in Kenya which are reinforced in the commission reports that followed. Among the recommendations that the report gave included that: partnership should be forged between government and regional and local authorities in the planning and administration of education; educational policy should be consciously directed towards promoting national unity; religious instruction should be handled as an academic subject on educational lines dissociated from the sectarian objectives of any religious group; primary education should provide training in the rudiments of citizenship; education should be responsive to contemporary needs and modern educational practice; education should be child-cantered and child study experts should be included as lecturers in teacher training colleges. The Ominde Report (Republic of Kenya, 1964) identified a number of issues of which the following are relevant to this study and remain relevant to the current situation in Kenya:

Education in Kenya should foster as sense of nationhood and promote nationhood. The post 2007 election violence revealed the fact that nationhood and national unity have not yet been successfully achieved in Kenya(Republic of Kenya, 2008a) and education, to be relevant must develop among learners and teachers alike patriotism, tolerance and mutual social responsibility.

Education should serve the people and the needs of Kenya without discrimination. It should develop in learners the traits of fair-mindedness, empathy and justice.

Education should enable learners at all levels to adapt to change. This requires analytical and evaluative skills that enable one to examine one’s context, identify and define problems clearly and accurately. It also requires creative skills to enable one to formulate and implement relevant solutions to problems.

The teaching methods prevalent in educational institutions after independence were faulted by the Ominde Report (Republic of Kenya, 1964) because they neglected learner participation, imagination and understanding and emphasised drilling and authoritarian teaching. Little attempt was made to adapt instruction to the needs of learners. In teacher training colleges, few lecturers were well grounded on the crucial question of how children learn or fail to learn. The report appealed for a paradigm shift in teaching and learning as indicated in the following:

We do not believe that the students will effectively break loose from the old bookish, rote methods until they have themselves shared in the exhilaration of autonomous learning and have discovered how much more complete is their final mastery (Republic of Kenya, 1964, p.116)

Gachathi Report (Republic of Kenya, 1976) expounded on the implications of the ideology of African Socialism on education in Kenya. The Report recommended the following issues which remain relevant to the contemporary Kenyan context: Education needs to continue promoting national unity in order to address social and economic challenges facing the country; education should be a tool for removing social and regional inequalities and creating international consciousness; education should enhance adaptability and management of change; education should foster mutual responsibility and cooperation and education should develop positive attitudes and values that motivate people to serve diligently, honestly and efficiently. The Report recommended that all educational institutions should give increasing emphasis on problem-solving teaching methods that have a bearing on the real life situation of the Kenya environment. This study examines the extent to which PTE has addressed the concerns and recommendation of the Gachathi report.

The Mackay Report (Republic of Kenya, 1981) was mainly concerned with the establishment of the second university in Kenya. It recommended the establishment of the 8-4-4 system of education. It reiterated the importance of the following objectives of education in Kenya: fostering national unity based on the adaptations of the rich cultural heritage of the Kenyan people; facilitation of the needs of national development; development of skills, knowledge attitudes, talents and personalities of learners; fostering positive international consciousness and promotion of social justice and morality. The Report observed that formal education had tended to concentrate on imparting knowledge for the sake of passing examinations instead of facilitating problem solving.

Kamunge Report (Republic of Kenya, 1988) addressed education and manpower training for the rapidly changing Kenyan society. It recommended


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