We need an education revolution

In the midst of this 'gale force 10' economic and social storm, where most are frantically running around trying to shore up defences in an attempt at damage control, some even seeking out a simple 'cure-all pill', it seems almost immoral to speak of long-term economic solutions.

I firmly believe that we must place people at the centre of our decisions and promote measures which foster social cohesion. It is simply unacceptable that after this economic 'tsunami' finally passes, we come out on the other side a more fragmented and more unjust society, and more discriminatory of the most disadvantaged social groups.

Our current economic situation, does not excuse us from the duty to build a future under a new paradigm and with new structures of social integration. If we want our country to be competitive, we must be able to make wealth creation the cornerstone of social policy. A society incapable of generating resources, doing business internationally, and adding value in the social, economic, and cultural, is a society which is doomed to sentencing its people to a serious drop in its standard of living.

Despite the many measures taken to nurture and maintain a competitive environment in our organisations, there remains one crucial issue which in my opinion, has been glaringly neglected, namely: EDUCATION. Our education system needs to be overhauled so that we will be able to successfully deal with the challenges facing our society.

Though some legislative changes may be required, the answer does not lie in more education bills, nor in partial reforms. And I certainly don't think we need any half-baked curriculum changes; we've had enough pandering to swings on the political pendulum and acquiescing to various lobby groups. What we do need is an authentic revolution of our education system from pre-school through to Post-secondary, creating a veritable culture of life-long learning.

Taking a good look at what more socially advanced countries around the world are doing, it becomes evident that invariably, a quality education system is the backbone of competitiveness. Intrinsic to being committed to quality education is the ongoing search for excellence in education and the allocation of resources and the designing of strategies which are sufficiently long-term and transformational.

Finland is often cited as a prime example of having a high-quality education system. This is no coincidence, but rather a consequence of a long-term strategy with continuity as the cornerstone of education policy regardless of who is in government. In fact, in Finland it is a matter of official policy to guarantee high quality public education, which translates into profoundly reforming teacher training, teaching methods and content while continuously monitoring outcomes. More importantly, however, the system focuses on 'being' and not 'having'.

I feel strongly about the need for a social movement to transform the education system. In addition to staffing schools with highly trained teachers, we must educate our youth in values, competencies and knowledge adapted to our new reality. For far too long have teachers been so under-valued and so little demanded of them whilst in training. Moreover, teachers need to be adequately compensated for their efforts as they devise methodologies which stimulate learning capacity, intellectual curiosity and critical thinking in students. Finally, young minds need to be encouraged towards team-work, entrepreneurship and competitiveness, creativity, diversity, inclusiveness and social cohesion.

It is my personal conviction that in order to must build a solid foundation of competitiveness and social cohesion in Baskland, the matter of education must first be addressed. As the poet Mario Benedetti put it, "Learning to be, to love and to share, and nothing else, are what give meaning to life." May we strive to ensure that this individual and social learning continues to accompany us on life's highway.

* Originally published in El Economista 08/07/2013

Sabin Azua

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