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Is our education system preparing ourchildren for the 21st century globalised world?

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By Almamy Fanding Taal

Charles Jow Memorial Academy held its Senior Secondary School graduation ceremony on Saturday July 15 2023 at the school campus in Bundung. The school is located behind the Bundung Police Station and the Magistrate Court. A well-attended ceremony was witness by the chairmen of the PTA and the board of trustees and principal and his deputy and all the speeches were excellent. The Guest Speaker gave an inspiring address to the students in English, Mandinka and Wolof.

The day belonged to the students in my view. All the graduating students turn out sharply wearing white shoes and as they walked to their seats under the special tent for their day, the School Choir sang the school anthem and a farewell song. I was moved by the lyrics of the anthem because I do not remember my Gambia High School anthem.

However, I can clearly recall that music or theatre was not part of the curriculum during our time at Gambia High School. There was a grand old Piano in the Assembly Hall, which disappeared following a major refurbishment of the Hall in 1990. The Hall had a wall of fame with the names of past leaders of the school three in all: The principals, head boys and scholarships awardees.

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One other thing that made an impression was the number of prizes: all the subjects have best student prizes and rightly so and cash prizes for the overall best student for each of the three streams Arts, Commerce and Science. This encourages excellence across the board and equality of subjects of study.

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Regrettably, I did not see an image or portrait of the great man the school is named for Mr Charles Yusupha Jow of blessed memory, the educationist and latterly head of the WAEC Office in the Gambia. Nor the picture of arguably the greatest principal who established the school’s reputation as high performing public school, the Right Honourable Alhaji Alpha Khan.

As part of the graduation ceremony, the newly constituted board of trustees of the school planted two trees in tribute to the memory of the school’s namesake and a tree in honour of Dr Mrs Satang Jow widow of Mr Charles Jow, former principal and Minister of Education an educationist and public servant in her own right. By all accounts, the Charles Jow Memorial Academy is very well but education is too important to left with parents’, schools and teachers only, because I believe that we are not doing enough for the education of our children.

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Last year, the ministry of basic and secondary education was in the news for not paying its bills to the Regional Examination body WAEC. The arrears was promptly settled and students in grades 9 and 12 sat to their exams. Next time education was on front-page news was when the grade 12 results were published. Which most parents anticipate with great trepidation because the performance of the majority of Gambian students have been consistently poor throughout the two decades of the 21st century?

Although, significant investment went into basic education because of the funds provided by the Millennium Development Goals: several unimaginatively designed schools were built throughout the Gambia but the quality of the education provided in our public schools remained second rate and desultory. Consequently, parents who can afford it educate their children in private schools, which is a growth industry in the Gambia. 

Globalisation, changing demographics and technological advancements are some of the key driving forces of the age, and these will continue to shape our future. Our students will have to be prepared to face these challenges and be in positions to seize new and exciting opportunities. To help our students thrive in this fast-changing world, we have to identify a set of core values and competencies that are increasingly important. They underpin the holistic education that our schools must provide to better prepare students for the future. Together, our schools and parents need to work hand-in-hand to help our students develop these 21st century competencies.

Core values

Values are at the core of one’s character. They shape the beliefs, attitudes and actions of a person, and therefore form the core of the framework of 21st Century Competencies. Our core values include respect, responsibility, resilience, integrity, care and harmony, which we must accept universally as values that are at the foundation of our shared vision for our people as national values.

Respect: our students will demonstrate respect when they believe in their own self-worth and the intrinsic worth of all human beings.

Responsibility: our students are responsible when they recognise, they have a duty to themselves, their families, community, nation and the world, and fulfill their responsibilities with love and commitment.

Resilience: our students are resilient when they demonstrate emotional strength and persevere in the face of challenges. They must show courage, optimism, adaptability and resourcefulness.

Integrity: our students will demonstrate integrity when they uphold ethical principles and have the moral courage to stand up for what is right.

Care: our students are caring when they act with kindness and compassion, and contribute to the betterment of the community and the world.

Harmony: our students uphold harmony when they promote social cohesion and appreciate the unity and diversity of a multilingual society.

Social-emotional competencies

These are skills necessary for our children to develop healthy identities, recognise and manage their emotions, develop a sense of responsibility, care and concern for the environment and others, relate to others and develop positive relationships, handle challenges, make responsible decisions, and act for the good of self, others and for the greater good of our society at large.

Our students must learn skills from these five interconnected key competencies: self-awareness, self-management, responsible decision-making, social awareness, relationship management, 21st century competencies for a globalised world.

The following competencies are necessary for the globalized world we live in: civic literacy, global awareness and cross-cultural skills; critical and inventive thinking; communication, collaboration and information skills.

Together, these core values and competencies in my view will help our students embody the desired outcomes of Education so that they are able to capitalise on the rich opportunities of the digital age. The billion-dollar question to ask is our education system doing this. Is the education system preparing our children for the digital age?.

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