By Amber McMunn
Education across Africa is improving.
Do you agree or disagree? This was one of the statements posited to the attendees at the education ecosystem event Metis co-hosted with EdTech Nairobi and the AL Group. Over 100 attendees were challenged to engage in discussion and debate around a variety of education-based topics.
The room filled with shuffles and chatter as people moved to stand on the side of the room for either disagree or agree to the statement. While few people were willing to stand with disagree to the concept that education is improving, attendees were challenged in their perceptions when a woman who positioned herself with disagree gave her view. She argued that until education was taking place in an African context, and not a British or French or other colonial background, and students are learning about themselves and their history, education is not improving. She further explained, “[School] doesn’t teach me about myself, it doesn’t ground me in my identity. And yet you tell me that our education system is getting better?! I don’t think so.” As the room filled with clapping and cheers, it was clear that with only the first statement asked, people began to question their viewpoint and open themselves up to their ideas being challenged.
The room was more evenly split with the second statement: everyone should learn to code. With polite and respectful but passionate discussion back and forth, both sides shared their view with cheers and claps of encouragement from the people around them. As the statements progressed and debate was sparked, people moved back and forth across the room for standing with agree or disagree. When the prompting questions came to an end, attendees were encouraged to carry on the discussions on their own. The room remained lively as people introduced themselves, heard about new organizations throughout Nairobi and the work they’re doing, and then continued to engage in conversations we so rarely open-up to. People moved about the room entering into conversations and starting discussions with people that were previously strangers. The opening statements had given the room points to start conversations on and it was clear they were anxious to continue.
These are questions we do not need to wait for a networking event to ask. Talk to the people around you about if they think schools should focus on social/emotional learning as much as academics. Ask your coworkers where they stand on the view that vocational training is more valuable than a university degree. These conversations might be hard as they force us to reflect on why we have taken certain positions, and we must be open to other perspectives but changes within the education sector can only occur when people are willing to talk about their views, why they hold them, and are willing to have them challenged.