The irony of analogue teachers and bureaucrats in a digital age.

·  Time to support the youth and the country with digital tools.

Sometime last year I noted that if ever there was the need for a transition for innovative education to happen, this brave new world demands it. However, the reactionaries in the education sector and bureaucrats in the government sector in poor countries tend to glorify themselves as possessing the most dazzling of terminal degrees and qualifications.

Digital and technological innovations are the order of the day; but a proportion of our chronic academics are passive resistors blocking the way for the youth to progress. In reality they stumble when confronted with new challenging technology or pretend that the radically new ways of doing things do not exist. A passive mindset tends to do the same old things over and again, by heart, while counting such wasted periods of passivity as experience. Without a critical reflection, that sort of experience is as dead as pork.

teacher tttt
A teacher training in Kumasi for digital applications

In refusing to update themselves for the digital age, educators, for instance, unconsciously invite their own self-termination. To steer the right corner, such detractors will have to take colossal mental leaps to escape the perennial cycle of poverty caused by the apathetic ways in which they perceive education and the indifference by which they deliver it. At the end of it all, the digitally inclined youth and the nation are the losers, and that must not continue!

Andrew S. Grove of Intel

I remember a remark by Andrew S. Grove, the former chairman of the board of Intel Corporation and a 1997 Time magazine man of the year. In his book, “Only the Paranoid Survive: How to exploit the crisis points that challenge every company”, he recalled how he often called on people who were experts in their field to teach him in order to improve himself. He said, “This entailed some personal risk. It required swallowing my pride and admitting how little I knew …”

He wrote, “Basically, I went back to school. (I was aided by the fact that Intel is a schoolish company, where it’s perfectly respectable for a senior person with twenty years of experience to take some time, buckle down and learn a whole new set of skills.) Admitting that you need to learn something new is always difficult. It is even difficult if you are a senior manager who is accustomed to the automatic deference which people accord you owing to your position. But if you don’t fight it, that very deference may become a wall that isolates you from learning new things. It all takes self-discipline.”

The mind is terrible thing to waste, and if great digital minds like Andrew Grove, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs defined themselves as lifelong learners, what excuse do the rest of us mere mortals have?

Moses Kwesi Baiden

In a recent keynote address at the “Ghana CEO Summit 2017, Accra, Moses Kwesi Baiden Jnr, CEO of the Margins Group, said, “This 4th industrial revolution is the mother of all revolutions and will alter the world fundamentally and dramatically and as a country and as businesses we need to carve out a sound vision and be deliberately involved in a major way for the sake of the children and the generations yet unborn.”

He said, “Imagine a $100 billion company domiciled in Ghana that creates jobs for thousands of employees; a law abiding company domiciled in Ghana, able to lock horns with global behemoths. This is not a fantasy; this is the new reality where innovation is not restrained by unaffordable capital cost. The 4th revolution is here; it is the age of digitization. A new reality in which a kid from Nima can horn his knowledge and skills to achieve global pre-eminence. This 4th time, we have run out of reasons to fail.”

The era of technological innovations and forward thinking require a mindset diametrically opposed to the bureaucratic staleness which, without any checks or balances, can cause disaster. Apathy is not only a drag, it can be outright destructive.

The new civil rights

In the column “Innovative solutions through digital technology: Examples from the Kofi Annan Centre of Excellence and Harvard University (June 18, 2012) I asked, “Must we watch on, bow to failure – one opportune era after another – and accept the nation’s education relegated to the bottom heap? It’s as if the youth dropping out in such large numbers doesn’t matter, and that Ghana – in particular, and Africa – in general must accept the status quo. Quality education for the youth to advance in useful ways is the new civil rights. Opportunities for solutions initiated by young people are today’s challenges.”

In Ghana, when we quote Proverbs 22:6, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it” the only sensible action ascribed to the words by many are the whippings and devious punishments claimed to develop a good character. What a world to grow in!  Little did it occur to the culprits that the youth need skills to work productively and that is the way they should go to steer their future with determination and confidence. It’s amazing how the very word “skills” or “work” has become an anathema in the culture of the nation’s curricula developers.



Creative and employable skills for life.

· The mission of “The Design and Technology Institute”.

Progress by any other name is spelled W-O-R-K. And the earlier we let the nation’s youth appreciate the necessity for productive work, the better it will serve Ghana and the rest of Africa. In truth, the fruits of a meaningful education are not theories, they must be seen.

The question of what educational outcomes to expect as exit points for the youth is no longer an isolated challenge. To escape the traps of poverty, the more relevant demand is how schools can develop curricula that produce hands-on skills and material products to keep pace with the needs of a rapidly changing world.

Constance Swaniker’s DTI

That fact serves the mission of The Design and Technology Institute (DTI), Accra, founded by Constance Swaniker. Bless her heart, she’s introduced a vitality extremely rare in the education ecosystem. In speaking with her, amid the grinding and clatter of her workshop, she said, “We have signed memorandums of understanding (MOUs) with KNUST’s College of Engineering, and College of Arts. Students are coming also from Ashesi; they’re coming from Takoradi Polytechnic, Koforidua Polytechnic. We have kids coming from the north. I mean, basically, the whole of Ghana. They spend 10 to 12 weeks with us. We throw them into the workshops with our workers. They work on real life projects and they get to feel for the first time working with hand tools, working on a shop floor and producing something. They produce things you can see and use, not just writing things you don’t even understand in a book report.”

Constance pix
Constance Swaniker, founder


She said, “Not only that, it shows them the possibilities of where the careers will take them. Because when I was at Tech (Kwame Nkrumah University Science and Technology – KNUST), I just did art for art’s sake. But it was only my experience working in carpentry that exposed me to this. So in my class at Tech we were about 300, only about 2 or 3 people ended up in industries; so fast forward, that’s when I realized there was such a gap with no link to the industries, so a lot of people didn’t really know why they were studying what they were studying and what they could use their education for.”

Pointing to the shop floor she said, “This is where we do a lot of the training; more of the practical aspects of what happens in the industry. So we’re doing manufacturing, engineering, we’re doing health and safety, a bit of entrepreneurship, we’re doing all sorts. Everything that happens here is practical, and then the theory.”

Constance factory floor
The factory floor of DTI

Reflecting on the trainees, she added, emotionally, “This is the only opportunity they get to experience what happens in real industry. So you’re not just doing art for art’s sake; but it prepares you for the demands of industry because a lot of times that’s not part of the school curriculum. This doesn’t happen in school and that’s the problem with what we’re saying about the academic syllabus. How can you do a practical subject if you’re not exposed to environments like this?”

Of theories and unemployment

To unwittingly educate the youth into a life of poverty is bad enough; but to not even see that calamity is worse. In the past, university students – for example – were giving academic education for free and then raised with a sense of entitlement, that is, the expectation of a cool and cushy government office job.

It is now common place for university graduates to spend years after their education looking for employment that does not exist, and yet our academic prone universities continue to produce human resource people, marketers, sociologists, and administrators who can neither be absorbed by the job market nor branch out as entrepreneurs.

Constance award
Constance Swaniker receiving the Women Economic Forum (WEF) award in India

The multitude of unalloyed theories cause people to remain stuck, unskilled, unproductive, and unfulfilled. Not grounded in practice, a good many academic degrees today are almost worthless; they float miserably with the wind. That is the despair passing for education in Africa, hence the mass unemployment, underemployment and persistent poverty. The sickening irony is that the very same academicians leading and looping those cycles of poverty are the same ones we expect to resolve the impasse!

Today’s students, as leaders and productive citizens, need a set of skills that efficiently use our rapidly diminishing resources by harnessing Africa’s collective intelligence. These are the assertive skills for the 21st century.

The jobs paradox in Africa

There is a job paradox in Africa. Numerous positons remain open for technicians, welders, mechanics, engineers, plumbers and electricians, but the number of qualified locals is low. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) reports that less than 5% of Africans enroll in formal technical or vocational training programs.

Prosperous nations support the manpower that takes care of their basic needs; conversely, to be known and stereotyped as the ones with begging bowls, asking for alms from countries with a work ethic, is a disgrace devoutly to be avoided.

DTI was established as a result of experiences from the construction and creative industry by its parent company Accents and Art Limited (AAL). Over the last several years, AAL has provided high quality training and internship opportunities to hundreds of students from the Opportunities Industrialization Centre (OIC), National Vocational Training Institute (NVTI) and many other technical institutions in Ghana.

Futuristic impression
An futuristic impression of DTI