Representative of the Honorable Minister of Education and Training, Principal Secretary Pat Muir
MTN Board Chairperson Senator David Dlamini
Head Teachers from the Eight Participating Schools,
Members of the Media,
I am so excited to be with you here this morning for the launch of the MTN Foundation’s 21 Days of Y’ello Care, in which the U.S. Embassy is collaborating. I am particularly excited about the focus on technology and education, especially since I am absolutely convinced that technology has the potential to level the educational playing field. Current educational systems around the world, including in the United States, are the product of a different era, a time when the jobs for which schools were preparing children were generally known and understood. But with rapid advances in technology and an increasingly connected – and interconnected – world, we don’t know for sure what jobs will look like five or ten years from now, let alone twenty years from now, when today’s first graders will be graduating from college and entering the work force. What we do know is that students and employees will have to be flexible and adapt to circumstances which will change at an unprecedented pace.
Unfortunately, both in the United States and Africa there tends to be a great discrepency in resources and the quality of education available in different areas of the country. Sometimes there are vast discrepancies between schools located in the same city. And rural schools in particular struggle to provide the same educational opportunities and resources available to students in urban areas. Rural African education, as it stands today, is not producing digitally literate students and, in general, is not provide learners with the skills that are required for competitiveness in the twenty first century workplace. The good news is that there are many educators who recognize these issues and who are helping to change the system. And technology, though it contributes to some of the challenges we face, also has the potential to provide us with solutions to these challenges. That’s what gives me the confidence that technology will be the key to leveling the playing field.
I’d like to give you one example of what I’m talking about. Let me ask first, how many of you have heard of President Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative, or YALI? It is a broad initiative aimed at investing in the next generation of African leaders. The flagship YALI program is the Mandela Washington Fellowship, which this year will bring 1000 young leaders from across sub-Saharan Africa to top U.S. colleges and universities for a six week intensive leadership and training institute. It’s aimed at youth ages 25-35 so I hope all the high school students participating in this year’s 21 Days of Y’ello Care will keep this program in mind and be sure to apply in a few years.
One of the YALI Mandela Washington Fellows from South Africa works at a non-governmental organizatio (NGO) called Good Work Foundation in Hazyview (near Kruger Park) which is focused on leading a sustainable model of learning that delivers digital era litercy, education, and career training which can be introduced to rural African communities through community-based digital learning centers of excellence. Good Work Foundation already has four of these enters up and running, with plans to build several more. Through these centers, or digital hubs, they bring students from schools through out the surrounding region for at least two hours of digital education per week. They also use online, digital resources to teach business English, mathematics, leadership and life-skillsclasses to prepare students for the 21st Century employment. These hubs address the need to improve access to education and personal development in rural Africa. Each center aims to: (1) Create an access “bridge” between school and work, preparing rural adults for life in a global, connected world; (2) Become a hub of digital learning for public-sector elementary schools that can outsource their digital learning to campus (The Open Learning Academy); (3) Reduce the “digital divide”, providing rural people with the opportunity to actively participate in today’s online conomy. Amazingly, the first school to attend the Hazyview Digital Learning Campus has seen a 30 percent improvement in their year-on-year math and English results after just one year of part-time classes at the digital learning campus. Thirty percent!! This model immerses rural African learners in high impact learning experiences that are presented as they would be in the world’s most technologically advances classrooms. We are proud to have one of the YALI Fellows working there to help bring it all to fruition.
The digital learning centers are certainly not the only model or program promoting technology in education or working to provide access to the high quality and relevant education necessary to prepare all students – regardless of location or financial resources – for our ever-changing, digital world. There are countless initiativs and innovations being tried out or implemented around the world. That’s what’s so exciting!
The LEGO robotics program and other programs being introduced by MTN Foundation through the 21 Days Tech Ed camps are also great examples of the ways in which technology is changing education – and making it better. I am so impressed by Mr. Mandla Sithole of Lusoti High School in Simunye who – completely on his own, becasuse he is curious and innovative and interested in bringing opportunities to his students – brought the LEGO robotics program to his school and then trained other teachers on how to facilitate the program in their schools. Programs like these teach kids basic coding, electronics, engineering skills, and, perhaps most importantly, creativity and innovation. They also help students to understand that failure is a vital part of the learning process. Students who are afraid to fail are also afraid to create, and creativity is one of the most important conditions for real learning. We are thrilled to be providing eight LEGO robotics sets to be used by the schools during these 21 Days of Y’e”o care. These sets will also be used to continue robotics clubs in our American Corners in the Mbabane and Nhlangano Public Libraries. And we are delighted to be ablt to help implement the program and make it a success.
President Obama gave some great advice to students several; years ago. He said “Nobody gets to write your destiny but you. Your future is in your hands. Your life is what you make of it. And nothing – absolutley nothing – is beyond your reach, so long as you are willing to stay focused on your education, there is not a single thing that any of you cannot accomplish, not a single thing.”
I wholeheartedly agree with President Obama’s words, but I also recognize that some schools and students have fewer resources or more obstacles than others. My great hope is that the educational opportunities and resources provided to Swazi students through this and other programs will help make the path to achieving their goals a little easier, and a lot more fun.
As President Obama told a group of Mandela Washington Fellows last year, “The world needs yor talents and creativity. We need young African who are standing up and making things happen not just in their own countries, but around the world.”
Today, I say the same to Swazi students. We need them to become informed, to participate and to work toward a better future, not only for Swailand, but for the world. And we look forward to continued partnership with MTN Foundation, educators, and others to help provide students with the tools they need to make that happen. Thank you.