How to better prepare our students for the real world

Educators need to introduce students to real scenarios in their courses and they should be allowed to take risks and learn from their mistakes, writes Kamiel Habriel

While engineers's mastery of maths and science, coupled with their training in design and manufacturing processes, prepare them to produce such vehicles, it is not sufficient to allow driverless cars to operate on the streets. AFP / KARIM SAHIB
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The Ministry of Education has requested that all universities and higher colleges introduce a mandatory class on innovation in an attempt to encourage creative thinking among students.

Last year, the ministry began to introduce entrepreneurship and innovation as key subjects taught at universities and colleges to better equip students for life after graduation. While courses on innovation management and entrepreneurship have mostly targeted students in technical programmes, there is a need to introduce new ways to make such courses suitable for graduates in other fields.

In a knowledge-based economy, science is the essential resource. These innovation-driven economies have the foundation and impetus to create new jobs, products and services. Research is at the core of such an economy.

Over the past two decades, higher education’s approach to fostering student potential has focused mostly on developing innovation leadership.

But educators need to consider where students really spend most of their time while pursuing their degrees. Clearly, the classroom needs to be treated as their “workplace”.

In transforming the education system to become more innovation-driven, there is a need to provide students with “innovation moments”.

Educators need to introduce students to real scenarios in their courses and they should be allowed to take risks and learn from their mistakes. After all, a large percentage of innovators have suffered major upsets. We need to let youth realise that failure is not an end, but a step towards achieving their goals and realising their full potential.

We should also encourage our graduates to develop conceptual frameworks for understanding workplace innovation from multiple perspectives.

For example, engineers are capable of designing driverless vehicles to roam the streets of our cities.

While their mastery of maths and science, coupled with their training in design and manufacturing processes, prepares them to produce such vehicles, it is not sufficient to allow driverless cars to operate on the streets.

There are societal, economic and safety issues with the technology that must be dealt with first. What is the extent of sociological and physiological impact on people as they watch driverless cars approaching them? How will society accept this disruptive technology? These issues must be addressed and studied before introducing such technology in society.

Thirdly, there is a need to design university and college programmes in such a way as to move students from the learning practices they bring with them from secondary schools to those they will be expected to apply within their future workplaces. In this regard, experiential learning techniques must be further developed.

This is more about developing the skills necessary for students to succeed in the workplace.

Examples of such skills include successful teamwork practices, effective oral and written communication, understanding the relationship between science and policy, ethics and ethical practices, dealing with anxiety in the workplace, building successful networks, reaching out to diverse groups in society, fairness and equity in the workplace.

Teachers and college faculty come from diverse cultural, ethnic and religious backgrounds. The same is true for students who enrol in public and private schools, colleges and universities. Teachers and college faculty need to engage effectively with innovations in teaching and learning and to serve as living examples of workplace innovation. Students need to learn how to effectively work in a multicultural environment and develop an awareness of cultural sensitivities that, if not carefully navigated, could derail a project even if the technology was well-developed.

In other words, students need to learn how to work in harmony with others from different cultural backgrounds; respect their views; learn from their respective experiences; and collectively build coherences among their peers.

Finally, it is important to remember that innovation is primarily about people, their willingness to try new ways of thinking and doing that bring about improvements in their own lives, their business, the economy and society as a whole.

The Government is keen to support its youth to become more engaged in activities that promote an innovative spirit. Support for research and development activities in universities and higher technology colleges is essential to reaching this goal.

It is also important to promote and support business-university collaboration. Businesses need to learn how to take the innovative ideas developed in universities and higher education institutions and be able to take more risk in the process of commercialising the research outcome.

Dr Kamiel Gabriel is an international consultant in higher education research and innovation strategies and is the author of The Anatomy of Innovation – What makes innovation succeed in the 21st Century?