What you discover today, becomes tomorrow’s education

Keenly aware of the challenges faced in South Africa and globally on all fronts and how it impacts on children and young people (and therefore South Africa’s future economy); Afrika Tikkun has re-imagined its approach to youth development. Its subject matter expert in child and youth development, David Silva reflects here on this vision and how his personal journey came to inform it.

Two influences have shaped how I have come to view the twinned subjects of education and youth development: being born in the 1980’s, the decade when technology catapulted society into a new era, and my exposure to what some may call radical parenting.

At the age of 15, my parents asked me if I wanted to travel to a foreign country and volunteer for 6 months. They take the stance that experience is as valuable as education, and they held nothing back in ensuring their children became global citizens and critical thinkers of society. At 15 years of age, I was pumped to travel, and didn’t even blink before jumping on board. But (being one of 8 brothers) they challenged me to raise half the total amount needed to make the trip. That didn’t hold me back. It was an opportunity that gave me confidence and helped me develop the entrepreneurial skills I would need in the future. My six months in SA, is a story for another day, but I’ll give you this: it was life changing.

Being born in the techno-era has not made me any more tech savvy and I still leave the glitches to the passionate technological minds. But what it most definitely means for anyone today, and particularly for the youth of today is that we need to be chameleons and change our colours with the times. It means that we can no longer just learn and accept one way of doing things, and for us as adults we can no longer teach that there is only one way. Information is so accessible that we can no longer give excuses, or be unwelcoming of the new and different.

But there is one thing that is both magnificent and challenging about being part of this generation, and that is that you have no excuse to not be the best you that you can be!

“What you discover today, becomes tomorrow’s education”

With a world changing more rapidly today than it was 30 years ago, we face the challenge of how to prepare young people for a future that we can’t predict. How do you develop young people for an era that is marked by uncertainty and a “post-truth” confusion about reality? By giving them the ability to seek out answers independently, be responsible for what they learn and trust their own intelligence. If I have learned anything through that experience, it is the importance of learning to asking questions.

I often say it is not a child’s fault that the world keeps changing; yet they are the ones sentenced to a minimum of 15 years of institutionalized crammed information. If that weren’t enough, we live in a society whose economic pressures increasingly excludes parents from their children’s lives. Parents don’t have the time they once did to play the role of youth development in the lives of their children.

I often say, traditional education is us adults teaching old knowledge and hoping it will equip the learner’s future, but the truth is, it is the youth of today who are discovering what will be the next generation’s knowledge. Systems of knowledge that were once considered vital are quickly becoming obsolete, sometimes without critical reflection of what has been lost, and an inadequate assessment of what should be retained. All of this happens within the context of the debate concerning the de-colonialisation of education. This is a vital debate to consider but it should not be conducted apart from the context of this concern – which is how to prepare South African young people, and in particular those who come from disadvantaged backgrounds to thrive and be productive 20 and 30 years from today.

That our education system may not be meeting the challenge to prepare South African youth for the many pressures and unique challenges they will face in adulthood is the subject of ongoing debate. And what is often the approach when attempting to adopt innovative techniques is that these are applied outside the class room, in after school programs and the likes.

In October of 2016, I was invited to join a forward thinking and ambitious organization to play a key role in the development of after-school programs that truly make a difference in the youth of today. Afrika Tikkun has been running after school programs for over 20 years and the organization is no stranger to research around education and youth development, bringing a wealth of expertise and experience to this field. Uppermost in its concern at that time, was the question of how it could prepare youth for the world of the future.

The conclusion that research, deep discussion and thought came to was that in order to prepare young people for this new tomorrow, it needed to orient itself – its activities and outcomes around 5 key values:

passion for learning – cultivating an unquenching love for learning through living libraries, transferring ownership in the learning process and purposeful conversations that promote shared learning will create students for life, open to adaptation and growth.

innovation – developing creativity and problem solving scientific thinking

preparation for the world of work – career guidance and work readiness skills starting in Grade 8

get active – using sports and scouts to keep the brain active and body health

be a force for change – empowering personal agency by teaching young people to know their human rights as well as how to stand up for and promote access to those rights.

These have become the pillars to a programme Afrika Tikkun anticipates will cultivate a generation of young people who are able not only to emerge out of poverty and disadvantage, but to thrive, innovate and lead on any platform of their choosing. The overarching characteristic of this programme is leadership – in a world where leadership everywhere is in crisis, Afrika Tikkun has turned its entire efforts towards cultivating moral leadership in young African people.

I view my role as a youth development leader, as an opportunity to empower young people with opportunities to explore and question the foundations of accepted knowledge. They will learn to think critically about the topics life presents in new ways that advance our understanding of those topics.

In becoming critical consumers of information, they will play key roles in future thought leadership. This I believe will be the secret in bringing about change, giving youth the responsibility to determine, innovate and test what works, what matters and what needs to be done.

Originally from Brazil, David Silva has qualifications in life coaching and project management, and has worked in various countries in youth development for over ten years.

Written By: David Silva

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