Learners of today – South Africa’s future leaders – are entirely different to learners of yesterday. Most are part of a new, always-connected generation that has moved beyond textbooks. These students are racing ahead (or trying to), but the way they are taught hasn’t changed since the Industrial Revolution. In a Google-powered world, remembering has become obsolete.
The lack of a skilled workforce is rated as the third-most problematic factor for doing business in South Africa – after government bureaucracy and restrictive labour regulations – according to the WEF. SA’s education system is rated 134th out of 138 in the WEF’s 2016-17 Global Competitiveness Report. This atrocious rating comes despite spending R213.7bn on basic education in 2016, or 15% of the total budget. This is a higher proportion than the US, UK and Germany. Something clearly isn’t working.
According to Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, “We stand on the brink of a technological revolution that will fundamentally alter the way we live, work, and relate to one another.” The WEF refers to this phase of humanity’s development as the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
The First Industrial Revolution used water and steam power to mechanise production. The Second used electric power to create mass production. The Third used electronics, information technology and robotics to automate production. Now a Fourth Industrial Revolution is building on the Third, the digital revolution that has been occurring since the middle of the last century. It is characterised by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres.
To prepare for the realities of the future workplace and the rapidly changing technological landscape, it is critical for learners to become proficient at future-fit skills such as critical thinking, curiosity, communication and entrepreneurship. A group of South African educators believe that the solution lies in teaching learners how to become proficient at asking Big Questions. These are questions that lead the learners on intellectual journeys to pursue answers, rather than simply memorising facts.
Magna Rautenbach is the Managing Director of Johannesburg-based non-profit SOLE South Africa, which opened its doors in April 2017. SOLE stands for Self Organised Learning Environments. The Afrikaans equivalent is SLIM: Self Leer Internet Metodiek. SOLE is an inquiry based learning solution for the connected generation. The method is proven internationally to increase learner engagement and develop future-fit skills.
In a SOLE session, educators encourage learners to work collaboratively to answer Big Questions using the Internet. Learners are free to organise their own groups and present their findings to the rest of the class at the end of the session. The educator facilitates the presentation, review and feedback segments, providing encouragement and posing further questions. Rather than teach, the educator allows learning to happen.
Rautenbach has a plan to bring the methodology to all South African schools, at no cost. She is also raising funding from tech giants to provide “SOLE in a Box” kits to underserved schools in rural locations. The kits consist of 10 mobile devices with Internet access, a dedicated mentor to run SOLE sessions, a detailed SOLE Toolkit to support educators and access to a database of Big Questions relevant to South Africa.
The project, scheduled to run for 12 months, will provide the necessary feedback, results and conclusions to expand the scale of the project. Once the success of the project can be shown, South African businesses will be approached for the next round of funding.
SOLE SA’s moonshot mission is “2030 by 2030.” Says Rautenbach: “We aim to identify, nurture and develop 2,030 future-fit entrepreneurial icons, role models and leaders, to a combined net worth of $20.30B by 2030.”
Rautenbach passionately believes that education is the key to a better world, which is why she bootstrapped the development of the SOLE SA platform and invests all her energy into bringing SOLE to SA. She can be contacted with further enquiries at firstname.lastname@example.org or 071 155 7689.