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Opinion - How important is education for economic growth?

2023-03-13  Ruben Kapimbi

Opinion - How important is education for economic growth?

Jeremia Nghiwanwa

When high schools partner with the community, students contribute to real challenges, revitalising economic opportunities for the community as a whole. Through these hands-on learning experiences, students gain the career and academic skills they need for future economic success.

In many countries, decades of research confirm that increased investment in education leads to increased economic growth. This includes higher salaries for individuals, greater workforce effectiveness, and higher gross domestic product. This relationship between education and economic growth is evident on a large scale. 

The Alliance for Excellent Education found that increasing high school graduation rates would lead to dramatic increases in new jobs, gross domestic product, annual earnings, annual spending and tax revenue. For many students, high school is a pivotal opportunity to get the skills they need for postsecondary and career success. Research now shows that adolescence is a pivotal phase for brain development, making it an optimal time to help young people shape their intelligence, identity and personality. Students’ high school experience often determines whether or not they will receive their high school diploma, pursue college or another postsecondary credential, or possess the skills and confidence to navigate the professional world of the 21st century.

Currently, traditional high schools do not do enough to ensure all students meet these outcomes. A study from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development spells out the relationship between pandemic learning loss and economic outcomes: K-12 students impacted by school closures may expect some 3% lower-income over their lifetimes, and on a national scale, annual GDP may be an average 1.5% lower for the rest of the century. 

This indeed is true for Namibia under the current situation. We have to chronicle the gap between the preparation high school students need to succeed in the 21st century workforce and the preparation they actually receive. We have to close this gap. By investing in high school transformation around the demands of the future economy, we have the opportunity to rethink high school to set up all students for successful careers and contribute to economic growth on a large scale.

To succeed in the 21st century job market, high school students need to graduate with more than academic knowledge. They need the skills, confidence and creativity to meet the challenges of a changing world. I believe, our learners should embody these skills through six competencies, including ‘Original Thinkers for an Uncertain World’ and ‘Learners for Life’.

Our schools should design principles which provide a roadmap for how to design schools that teach these competencies to all learners. Across the country, Namibian schools should put these design principles to work. Their success demonstrates how high school education can spur economic growth by empowering students from all backgrounds to graduate college and career ready.

High school is a crucial opportunity to future, even those jobs that don’t yet exist. High school can set students up to succeed in this economy and contribute to economic growth by investing in curricula that prepare students to solve real-world problems. Moving away from the traditional high school model of memorisation and standardisation, high schools can instead train students to tackle complex projects, collaborate with others, and guide their own learning.

One powerful example of an innovative, career-minded approach to learning is STEAM curriculum. STEAM expands on the familiar learning acronym of STEM—Science, Technology, Engineering and Math – to introduce Arts into the equation. Through STEAM learning, students combine hard skills with learning to think critically and creatively, just as they will need to do in real-world professional situations. This approach gives students the knowledge they will need for high-wage STEM careers, and it also gives them the ability to apply those skills with originality, no matter how much the STEM landscape changes over the course of their lives. Other features of innovative, career-minded high school curricula include: 

Competency-based: Students progress through credits based on mastery of material, not seat time. In doing so, students learn to gauge their own progress and motivate their own learning, crucial skills for postsecondary success.

Student-centred: Students decide what they learn and how they learn it, cultivating innovative, self-driven thinkers.

Project-based: Students gain academic skills through solving real-world challenges, mastering the design thinking they will use to meet the challenges of the future.

Interdisciplinary: Students combine learning from multiple disciplines to find new ways of solving problems.

When high schools combine these approaches to learning, the results are powerful. Students master crucial academic skills through meaningful and engaged learning that is relevant to their lives and futures.

High schools can be engines of economic growth for historically marginalised individuals and communities. When high schools prioritise equity in their work, all students have the chance to pursue well-paying jobs. These students aren’t just learning hard computer skills.

They are learning those skills within a broader community context: how technology intersects with public policy, how people of colour have built careers in the tech sector, and how technology can be used to strengthen their communities. This context prepares Namibian students to take their technology skills and apply them across a wide range of professional situations. I believe, the way we teach computer science is not strictly about coding, because coding always changes; it is about how to think about problems. It is about logic. It is about gaining an understanding of how technology shapes our world.

High schools can also serve as hubs of connection between students and the local economy. These connections are especially impactful for underserved students who might not otherwise have access to these professional and economic opportunities.

A strong high school education ensures that all students have the knowledge, confidence and academic background to attend and succeed in college. High schools can increase the number of students pursuing post-secondary degrees in several ways, including: Partnering with local universities, providing college counselling resources, pairing students with information about scholarships and how to pay for college, and aligning their curricula with college entrance requirements. Education is one of the most powerful tools available to drive economic growth. 

A good high school education empowers students to go to college, pursue high-wage jobs and drive innovation within their chosen field. However, the positive relationship between education and economic growth depends on the quality of education students receive.

For high school, that means ensuring all students graduate with the skills they will need to succeed in the 21st century: improve physical building structures, expand access to technology, diversify the teaching corps, create serious incentives, financial and otherwise for regions to pursue community-led efforts, invest in competency-based curricula, change the credit structure that drives graduation requirements, develop a profile of a graduate and align course requirements with college admissions.

Transforming high school to meet the needs of the future is no small task. But the payoff, for students and for our society as a whole, is worth it. I hope we join hands in our work to invest in the future through investing in education.

*Jeremia Nghiwanwa is the CEO and founder of Atlantic Accountants and Advisors CC.

2023-03-13  Ruben Kapimbi

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