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The principal’s sermon: What advice are the teachers giving these days?

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By Samba Bah

As a kid in primary school, I can’t remember how many times our headmaster or teachers would repeat the same advice: “You should take your education seriously because there will be a day when you will need a grade 12 certificate to get a watchman job”. “A whole grade 12 certificate just to be a watchman? No way!” It never made sense to me. I wondered how that could happen because, as far as I knew, the school’s watchman (let’s call him Pa Samba) had no formal education. He didn’t even speak English. I didn’t see him doing anything that required any form of formal education. All he had was a big torchlight and what looked like a bow and arrow. My primary school teachers got me confused, but I still focused on my education as I didn’t want to find out the hard way.

It did not take long for me to see the wisdom in what they said. I was already a junior school kid when I got the awakening. I was talking to my elder brother, Modou, about a relative working as a police officer at a hotel in the Senegambia area. Modou helped enlighten me. He was not a police officer but a security officer for “working hot” (Wackenhut). Modou was the first to tell me about these private security companies you pay to assign a formal “watchman” to your home or office. At that time, they were hiring people with a grade 9 certificate, but I started seeing sense in what my primary school teachers were saying.

I thought I was a bit wiser at junior school, but the teachers there went a little further with similar advice. The only difference at junior school was that they were saying: “If you go to Nigeria, you will find taxi drivers with university degrees” (apologies to my Naija people, on behalf of my teachers). What? All the people I knew with high school diplomas had some form of job. Why will a person with a university degree be driving a taxi? This did not make sense to me at all. Well, by the time I completed my university degree, I started seeing people with degrees not getting jobs, and around 2013, I saw a graduate of the UTG driving a taxi. These teachers knew all along! Teachers always know.

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I wonder what the teachers are telling the kids at school these days. To the teachers out there, please tell these kids to work hard (and smart); if not, the robots will take their jobs. Well, let me redirect my message. I don’t think the kids can do this on their own. As a nation, I think we need to revisit our educational system. We have a lot of work to do to prepare our young ones for the future. Most people are not ready for the global economy as it is, and recent technological developments, especially AI, add many layers to an already complex problem we have not even started solving.

I have the privilege of working with Dr Laura Harrison and Joe Carver at Ohio University this academic year on a research project looking at the adoption of AI in higher education. As we go through the project, I wonder, if the US higher education system seems so unprepared for the developments in artificial intelligence (AI), what should we say for The Gambia?

In this new AI era, the world has seen drastic changes in business, technology, and education. The Gambia is no exception, and the country needs to revamp its educational system to move with the times. AI has the potential to create a revolution in the way people learn, teach, and interact with technology. We should invest in the necessary infrastructure and resources to ensure that our educational system is up to par with the rest of the world. This article will analyse the need for The Gambia to revamp its educational system to adapt to changes in AI. It will also provide an in-depth look into the potential benefits of such a move and the potential challenges that need to be addressed.

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Do you think I am really going with that AI campaign?

Well, not yet.

I’m not even an AI enthusiast. However, I recognise the fact that it is changing a lot around the world, and we should start thinking about it. I have been following conversations around education in the country and how our systems need reforms. I have heard good advocates of TVET and STEM. I know very strong, but unfortunately less listened to, advocates of the arts. People are really talking, but we are still not having a conversation. There isn’t much progress made on what our education should be like. I want us to have that conversation. We need to engage in this, in a transformative way to shape our schools right.

First, I believe I have a responsibility to state my positionality. I am an aspiring scholar studying higher education financing. I study higher education financing because I believe it’s very critical for access. So, I might have somewhat of a financing or access bias. However, I recognise the fact that we cannot discuss access in Gambian education without looking at quality and relevance. So, in the next few weeks, probably months, I would love to have a conversation around the issue of access, quality, and relevance of higher education in our beloved nation.

I must state, however, that I am just trying to start the conversation, but that doesn’t mean I have the answers. The aim is to start a conversation and have people join in. Therefore, I invite people to critique whatever I put here and provide suggestions for improving our educational system. The education of the Gambian child, the education of the Gambian youth, the education that children and young people receive in this country can only be relevant to our development if it’s something that we think about, talk about, and engage with or engage in to make it better. Our education can only be transformative if it connects to the realities of our society. Our education can only get us the results we need if it is really ours, if the policies reflect the people’s felt needs, and if the curriculum is relevant to the day-to-day realities of young Gambians in Banjul, Barra, Brikama, Bafuloto, Bintang, or Basse. Let’s discuss Gambian education. Share your thought on the Jangue-Bantaba Series.  

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