Prof Dr Tirth Raj Khaniya
I would like to begin […] with a statement made by Ilya Prigogine, Nobel Prize Winner, “We cannot predict the future, but we can prepare it”. To add to what he has said, it is through education, we prepare our future. Putting it another way, our future is largely dependent upon what kind of education with what vision and delivery mechanism we offer today.
It has been seven years since the 21st century began. Almost all countries widely discussed the beginning of 21st century, and several preparations were made in the name of preparing for the 21st century. Some countries started talking about the 21st century, and making preparations for it almost a decade before 2000. For them, the 21st century began long before the beginning of 2000. Perhaps, they could have thought that the more they talked about the 21st century, and got prepared for that, their efforts in the future would be more productive and contributory to the advancement of their society.
When we talk about education in the 21st century, generally the question that comes in our mind is what it is that makes the 21st century different from the 20th century in terms of education. When did it begin? What did the discussions on it entail when people talked about the 21st century? Was that merely the passing of time or the adoption of new processes of work or the development of new contents and areas of study or the change in the methods of teaching and learning or in life style of the people? One would have wondered what the world would be like in the 21st century. What is the demarcation line between the 20th and the 21st century? Was that just the end of December 1999 and beginning of January 2000 or was there something more? One would argue that talking about the 21st century and preparing for it is a visionary way of thinking about our future. As a corollary, when we discuss educational issues in relation to the 21st century, basically, we are envisioning our future education in light of the education we have at present. In order to support the visioning, we should be prepared to evaluate our existing system of education based on the past efforts and their impacts on what we accomplished so that we could consolidate what we accomplished and continue working on improving it in line the major changes taking place in different parts of the world.
Some people associate the 21st century with time and some people with excessive use of technology and knowledge (e.g. knowledge economy). Whatever the case, what is emerging, in fact, is that the 21st century is going to be more technology and knowledge-based than ever before. Because of this reason the world is going to be more globalized that ever before. Failing to appreciate this fact will lead us to isolate ourselves from the rest of the world. In this context, the first thing that we need to consider in order for us to be able to cope with the needs of the emerging societies is how to bring about changes in education so that our youths become competent enough no matter how competitive the world becomes. We need to understand that education is changing, and the education we received and the skills and abilities we gained some years ago may not be sufficient to enable us to cope with the requirements of the changing world. Today education is not like receiving once and using it for ever. We cannot utilize the knowledge and skills we have gained through education in the past unless we update them in light of the present needs. Therefore, our education has to be examined in light of the changing context of the world.
Education deals with human beings. We should know what skills and abilities we intend to inculcate in our youths in the 21st century so as to enable them to cope with the needs of the emerging society. At the same time, we should be able to determine what our people need to acquire in order to cope with the time to come. Education binds together the past and the future of our societies. It is through education we sustain our culture, values and beliefs, and inculcate ideas in our youths. If we incorporate the contemporary skills and abilities in our system of education, we can equip our future generation with the necessary skills and abilities to cope comfortably with the emerging societies without causing much harm to our tradition.
One of the reasons for talking about the future is that we are trying to make people aware that we have experienced so many things in the past, and based on those experiences, we can anticipate what the world would look like if the present pattern of development of the world continues. We are also telling people that they should be prepared for the emerging society in a different way than they were prepared in the past. We believe that in the future the world will be more competitive than it was before, there will be more use of technology in many aspects of life than before, and there will be a growing feeling of globalization. The argument is that our people in the future will need to be more competent, more skillful, more knowledgeable, more informed, more flexible, more creative, and more responsive to what is happening around as well as in other parts of the world. It is also our feeling that we have to be prepared to cope with the new way of life with the skills and abilities necessary for the emerging society if we want not to be left far behind the mainstream of world development. One way of addressing this challenge is to bring about necessary changes in our education system which is the main source of human resource development. For that purpose we were trying to visualize the future, in my opinion, when we talked about the preparation for the 21st century. Putting it another way, talking about the 21st century is a way to play a proactive role in the preparation for the future. That is why the countries which initiated early preparations stared the 21st century long before it actually began in other countries. The reason is that doing this helps us prepare ourselves for the future. This is important in order for us to be able to face the emerging societies which are dominated by technology and knowledge.
My understanding is that science and technology have transformed this world so rapidly that our economy and democracy have also been affected by those processes. The result is that future works will require much technical competence and a great deal of flexibility. The dynamics of the society is that one set of skills already acquired which used to be adequate in the past will not be sufficient for the future. Education is becoming not only a package of learning a set of skills; rather it is becoming a process of arousing in the learners a real thirst of learning.
The way the world is becoming open for access and communication, it becomes clear that the 21st century will invite every individual irrespective of place and citizenship to come forward and compete with the rest of the world for opportunities. For that purpose, every individual is expected to develop necessary skills and intellectual ability. In addition to necessary skills, a person, therefore, is expected to be able to analyze problems and issues, examine the component parts, and reintegrate them into either a solution or into a new way of stating the problem or issue. In this way, it is necessary to develop thinking skills. An individual should be able to express and understand others’ expressions through diverse media. These skills of self-expression and hearing include writing, articulating verbal expressions, and familiarity with symbols and basic vocabularies of arts, mathematics and the sciences. These skills are necessary for an individual when the world becomes a global village. To have a meaningful life in the global village, our future generation will have to accept work as both the means of economic survival and an important source of one’s identity. Because of interaction with the rest of the world, our people will be careful with career and occupation options, not feeling bound by restrictions of race, gender, language, color, ethnicity, etc. Each individual will have to understand the fact that education is a prerequisite for becoming competitive in the adult workforce. This thinking certainly puts pressure on each country to bring about changes in the system of education by incorporating the elements of education necessary for the contemporary society. It becomes, therefore, obvious that we must make our education system competent enough to enable our future citizens to possess the skills, abilities and competence needed to cope with the emerging needs of the 21st century.
In the field of education, like many countries in this region, Nepal faces challenges in two ways: on the one hand it has not been able to make a good progress in education in the past (e.g. low pass rate, high drop out rate, low participation of girls, low rate of enrolment, under-achievement of the learning outcomes by the students, irrelevant education, no collaboration between education and service and productive sectors, etc.) despite mobilizing adequate external and internal resources, and on the other hand, now it has to use information technology in education, and upgrade the overall contents and processes of educational delivery.
Education has always been associated with social advancement, economic prosperity and employment. The relationship between education and these factors is going to be even stronger in the future. For making a system of education work better, it is necessary to have a clear picture of what we want from the system as an outcome of the process. Nepal, therefore, will have to be clear about what kind of people with what skills and abilities for what purposes are needed for its overall development. Once we make our priorities and choices clear, the system of education should be directed towards accomplishing them. This is what we need to do first. Therefore, we need to revisit our system of education in order to make it serve our present and future needs.
It has been quite some time since some changes were made in the present system of education. It is believed that it is only through education Nepal can equip its youths with necessary skills and abilities to cope with the emerging societies.
Source: New Horizons in Education in Nepal, 2007