This post continues our series on education and child development, highlighting “Skills for a Changing World” a new report, and reflections on Kenyan education included in the panel discussion. See a previous installment on the growing recognition of early childhood’s importance. In Kenya, Aga Khan Foundation has supported education programs for decades, including Educating Girls in Science and Education for Marginalized Children in Kenya.

What skills do you associate with success?

The new report “Skills for a Changing World,” released by the Center for Universal Education at the Brookings Institution, explores this question and issues faced in many countries globally as they shape the goals of education. Based on interviews and focus groups in four countries on three continents, the study, launched on April 5 at CUE’s Annual Research and Policy Symposium, explores the global, regional, and national level movements within education toward recognizing the importance of broad skills. Watch a video of the panel discussion here.

Different Stakeholders, Different Views

The report provided evidence for what Connie Chung, Associate Director of Harvard’s Global Innovation Initiative, said many educators know in their gut: different stakeholder groups see the skills for success differently. Often their answer depends on how close they are to students.

Helyn Kim, Senior Research Associate with CUE, explored this point further. In Kenya, for example, parents and teachers interviewed tended to emphasize skills around job readiness, and providing for a family. On the other hand, stakeholders in the school system with less direct contact with students emphasized communication, collaboration and problem-solving – skills linked to macro-scale indicators of national productivity.

Supporting Teachers to Be the Best

Panelists shared their own early experiences of what the best teachers do. Darius Ogutu, a former teacher who currently directs Policy, Partnerships and East Africa Community Affairs for the Kenyan Ministry of Education, recalled how his most memorable teacher reminded him of his grandmother: her willingness to let students sing, read and step outside accustomed lines of school played a big role in his own desire to become a teacher.

Kenyan schools, Ogutu said, now emphasize literacy, numeracy, and digital awareness. When the issue of societal valuation of teachers and teacher quality arose, Ogutu noted the need for what was once called “in-service training.”

“The ones we have are the best,” he said of teachers, “for the time being.” He added, “They only need our support so they can do better.”

In that vein, the Aga Khan Foundation works with governments, institutions and communities to improve in-service and pre-service support for teachers. The Foundation believes that mentorship throughout a teacher’s career is critical and it has established peer learning networks in Kenya and other geographies where it works.

More Models of Success

Kenya is considering introducing vocational training earlier in upper grades to give students a variety of models of success besides scholarly aspiration to university. The Ministry wants to help teachers identify student skills early. Ogutu drew an analogy to the way that Kenya’s long-distance champions get identified by teachers and coaches at an early age. This sets them up for success in the long term.

In a related new collaboration, the Aga Khan Foundation and the Kenyan government, with funding from the Porticus Foundation, are supporting the Government of Kenya’s Values-Based Education Policy and Practice. The four-year project in southern Kenya, begun in November 2016, aims to build a values-based education system and demonstrate models in Mombasa and Kwale Counties of what a values-based education looks like in practice. The program represents one way the Kenyan government has recognized that skills beyond cognitive development are integral to students’ success. Educators are adding values-based components such as social-emotional learning, pluralism, and citizenship skills. The resulting models can be replicated across Kenya.

For Ogutu, the new report held a number of valuable findings about the various stakeholders in education and their objectives. “Children are telling us what they want school to be like,” as well.

Investing in Early Years

The report also points back to research on the importance of a child’s first thousand days. According to Ogutu, Kenya’s Ministry of Education is partnering with the Ministry of Health to identify ways to stimulate children right from the start in ways that prepare them to learn when they get to school.

The discussion tied into the evolving view of early childhood, and the impact of the early years from zero to five, based on research findings about how children’s brains are shaped at an early age, and what that means for their fuller development.

Ogutu noted, “I was trained as a teacher to get all the knowledge” – for the conventional role of being a dispenser of knowledge to students, “not to let the learners learn.” Now they are working to update that model, creating communities of practice so that teachers can share what works.

That way students may come out with a more varied view of success, and more skills for getting there.