GESCI: Innovation Forum Part 1

Bridging the gap between innovation, and education and skills development: Policy makers, entrepreneurs, researchers and Kenya’s digital creatives have their say.

Part 1

GESCI recently held an innovation forum in Nairobi which engaged a wide variety of innovation stakeholders in a debate on the critical link between skills development and education, and innovation and enterprise creation. The forum put forward the question, what links them all together and how can education, and science technology and innovation policies create an enabling environment in which free enterprise can thrive?

The area of skills development has come under close scrutiny by African governments and donors, both keen to mitigate the alarming levels of youth unemployment in most sub-Saharan African countries, through technical and vocational skills development (TVSD). So why is it so difficult to furnish talented youth with the right skills to galvanise emerging economies?

A number of speakers from different backgrounds provided answers to this question over the course of two days of presentations, debate and group work. Jyrki Pulkkinen, Senior Advisor to Finland’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs, and knowledge society expert, opened the forum by helpfully shedding some light on the working definition of innovation, a term that has been misappropriated by some and misunderstood by many. Dr. Pulkkinen presented an in-depth description of the role of innovation in the economy, the role of innovation in the education system, different types of innovation, and the catalytic nature of ICT in enabling innovation processes. Innovation, said Dr. Pulkkinen, is a new or significantly improved product (good or service), or process, a new method, in business practices, workplace organisation or external relations. Innovation is impossible he went on to say, without collaboration and co-creation.

Dr. Jyrki Pulkkinen talks about innovation and the learning economy

As the dominant pedagogy adopted in most traditional education systems does not explicitly encourage co-creative or collaborative learning, the development of an innovation or learning economy is hindered. While innovation can be top-down (large-scale and research led) or bottom-up (experimental, user led, and local), most countries with learning and innovation economies such as Finland’s, have strong bottom-up innovation cultures. If education systems are to contribute to the development of learning and innovation economies they should nurture learners’ creativity and ideation, problem solving skills, and encourage collaborative learning. These skills acquired at a young age, explained Dr. Pulkkinen, support new enterprise development through a flexible and adaptable attitude to different circumstances, the exercising of initiative and self-directed learning, productivity and accountability (goal setting), and the skills and attitude to make things work. In short, all of the qualities required of entrepreneurs and good business people. As the dominant pedagogy adopted in most traditional education systems does not explicitly encourage co-creative or collaborative learning, the development of an innovation or learning economy is hindered. While innovation can be top-down (large-scale and research led) or bottom-up (experimental, user led, and local), most countries with learning and innovation economies such as Finland’s, have strong bottom-up innovation cultures. If education systems are to contribute to the development of learning and innovation economies they should nurture learners’ creativity and ideation, problem solving skills, and encourage collaborative learning. These skills acquired at a young age, explained Dr. Pulkkinen, support new enterprise development through a flexible and adaptable attitude to different circumstances, the exercising of initiative and self-directed learning, productivity and accountability (goal setting), and the skills and attitude to make things work. In short, all of the qualities required of entrepreneurs and good business people.

In conclusion, Dr. Pulkkinen argued that innovation skills are difficult to teach directly as they are not subject-matter, but they can be inculcated in learners through the right methods. The AKE Digital Creative Media project also supported by GESCI and funded by Finland, is an example of how knowledge society skills can be developed in a co-creative and collaborative learning environment. Students with minimum, and in some cases no formal qualifications, but with an intense interest in creative digital media, are delivered an experiential digital creative media curriculum by experts in animation, gaming, graphic design and digital music production. The AKE course tutors have not had any formal teacher training, but they contribute to the design of the curriculum based on their practical industry experience. They are also given the freedom to deliver the curriculum in a collaborative learning environment with the cross-pollination of ideas from across the four strands of digital creative media encouraged. All measurement of student progress is project-based, so no traditional assessment is applied. The quality of learning outcomes are measured by student retention on the course, student portfolios of work from the course, student feedback on the quality of teaching and learning, and ultimately by how many students find work or new projects to work on upon completion of the course. Several students are talking about forming their own company, which indicates that the networking aspect of the course and cross-pollination of ideas across the four skills areas is already encouraging entrepreneurial thinking.

Jussi Karakoski MFA

Jussi Karakoski, Senior Education Advisor to Finland’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs cited a number of high level conferences     and recent reports iwhich stress the necessity of linking industry to TVSD. These recent studies by the World Bank, McKinsey and UNESCO confirm that upgrading the TVSD sector in itself will not be enough to produce young people with relevant skills to sustain the economic growth of emerging ecnonomies. Industry must be engaged in the TVSD reform process so that changes to curricula and the mode of delivery of curricula can be informed by in-depth knowledge of the kinds of skills that are demanded by knowledge based and technical industries. According to the African Economic Outlook (2012), 21 African countries have dysfunctional youth employment programmes with Morocco being the only country studied in which youth employment programmes are functioning properly.

But there is another problem underlying the shortages of relevantly skilled young people. The UNESCO Global Monitoring Report (UNESCO, 2012) revealed that in 30 out of 59 African countries studied, half of the youth lack foundation skills (numeracy, literacy and social skills), that should be acquired at primary school level. While the acquisition of foundation skills at primary school level remains a challenge, the development of TVSD skills will also suffer from setbacks. Addressing gaps in foundation skills development, creating better linkages between industry and TVSD, and a smarter division of labour among the actors in the TVSD system (National Authorities, Economic actors, Civil Society Organizations, Regional economic communities, Development partners) are some of the measures Mr. Karakoski recommended be taken to address skills shortages in many emerging African economies.

 

Presentation of Dr. Jyrki Pulkkinen – Innovation Eco-system and Skills Development

Presentation of Jussi Karakoski – The Role of Skills Development and Innovation in the Education Sector Development

(i)
McKinsey Global Institute, 2012. Africa at Work: The private sector is the only long-term solution to creating stable jobs, raising living standards and reducing poverty: McKinsey Global Institute.

The World Bank, 2013. World Bank Development Report Jobs, Washington: The World Bank Institute.

UNESCO, 2012. Scaling up existing models of TVET provision to include more young people and adults is not the solution -> Paradigm shift that includes the active involvement of relevant actors, such as industry: TVET to TVSD. Shanghai, UNESCO.

UNESCO (2012) Global Monitoring Report: Youth & Skills – Putting Education to Work [Online]
available form UNESCO at: http://www.unesco.org/new/en/education/themes/leading-the-international-agenda/efareport/reports/2012-skills/, retrieved 7 February 2013

 

 

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Niamh Brannigan is a communications specialist born and raised in Dublin, Ireland, and now living in Nairobi Kenya where she works for an international NGO with a mandate to alleviate poverty and enhance socio-economic development by assisting governments to develop realistic, appropriate and relevant policies and plans for education and training systems through the holistic integration of technology – without waste and without leaving the teacher behind. Niamh is passionate about the role of different forms of indigenous knowledge in the development of knowledge societies, pedagogy for skills development, life skills for a new society, as well as the meaning and role of innovation in Africa. Niamh has an MSc in Technology and Learning from Trinity College Dublin and a Masters in Publishing from University of the Arts London. Email: niamh.brannigan@africanbrains.org