Courtship Between Industrial Revolution and Education System – a Don’s analogy.

By Rodgers Otom

Have you heard of the industrial revolution? What about the current education system? Until today, I never thought there was any connection between the two. However, it seems the twain have been in a relationship affair. It didn’t require a miracle for me to discover the link. A courtesy call on one wise man, Dr. Tonny Omwansa, director of C4DLab was all it took to ascertain this.

Dr. Omwansa is a public figure and a force to reckon with in the innovation space. That aside, we paid him a visit today morning in his office as part of the Innovation Fellowship. His perception is that “Free time only exists in an illusion.” Nonetheless, he accorded us an hour of his precious time.

After 45 minutes of questions and responses, I brought to his attention an article he recently posted on his twitter handle regarding startups in Israel. As a follow-up question, I asked if he thinks there is need for young people to be trained on startup creation and business development and how the Kenyan education system can help in achieving that.

“Well, let me take you back. There existed the industrial revolution before you were born. Do you know how factories work? You have raw materials and subject them to a step by step process. What do you have in the end…?” He paused.

‘Product.’ I interjected. “Yes! A fine product. What about our education system?” the don inquired smiling.

“It is the same as how factories run. You have to go to school from one class to another, year by year. You have to progress from primary to secondary, and finally to the University. What happens to the raw materials that do not make it to the final product? Discarded like a waste, that’s the treatment they get.”

“The final products become proud of their success and pride creeps. I am a lawyer, and I want to behave the way lawyers do. I am a doctor, and I want to behave the way doctors do. What then happens? People who try to create startups end up with partners from a similar area of expertise. Two or three people from the IT sector team up to create a startup, on the other side, two doctors team up to create a startup. It can’t work.”

“But you see, coming back to your question, incorporating lessons such as design thinking, problem-based learning (PBL), and business development requires time, patience, and our good friends up there. If it was within my power, Design Thinking as a course should be a common course in all University undergraduate programs. In Finland, Design Thinking is part of some master’s programs.” He stated.

We are approaching the end of the so-called industrial revolution. We need a people well trained and ready to innovate. A people who will fall in love with the problem as opposed to solutions to imaginary problems to create sweet and sticky solutions.

Programs such as Problem Based Learning (PBL) by C4DLab and Alto University are doing just that. Creating a pool of problem solvers through Design Thinking.

Rodgers Otom is a fellow at the University of Nairobi Innovation Fellowship program 2019/2020

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