Malawi’s future-ready youth need unconventional skills training

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Malawi is not spared from the disruption caused by the digital economy. Automation, robotics, and artificial intelligence will soon disrupt the way we work, whether in the bustling Limbe Market, in Kanengo’s factories or in Ntchisi Boma’s government offices.

With skills such as teamwork, adaptability, and complex problem solving being sought-after in the digitized economy, I have two recommendations that could make Malawi’s youth well prepared and relevant for work in the digital age.

First, I believe that there should be compulsory personal development and digital skills subjects in school. From primary school through the end of secondary education, the curricula should include personal development and digital skills, and both subjects should be equal in value to subjects such as English and mathematics.

In personal development classes, the students should learn to embrace the human skills that machines cannot execute—empathy, for example—leading to strengthened emotional intelligence. This would help develop self-awareness and mental wellbeing, as well as enable them to effectively relate to others. Developing a better understanding of themselves and how to react to various situations will make the students more flexible and adaptable to the constantly evolving digital economy.

In digital skills classes, students should learn skills such as computer programming, because in the future workplace people will interact with machines and digital applications more than ever before.

The delivery of the lessons should also be unconventional. Instead of exam-based assessments, in personal development, students should be assessed based on how they engage in dialogue with others. This will help to foster excellent communication skills, how they work in teams, and how they embrace human values such as reconciliation, humility, and compassion. Therefore, everyone leaving school will be transformed with emotional intelligence and ability to work with digital technology.

Secondly, students could benefit from a post-graduation innovation development program. The government could require all students set to graduate from all Malawian universities and vocational institutions to participate in a compulsory one-year innovation and professional development program after completing their studies. A special institution could be set up to run the program.

Participants would be divided into small multidisciplinary working groups of about 10 to 15, comprised of graduates from various institutions and possessing diverse knowledge and skill sets. For example, one team could include an engineer, an economist, an environmentalist, and other newly-minted professionals. Each group would be assigned to a target area to work in, with groups spread across the country.

The groups would be guided by an expert special facilitator who would take the learners through the innovation process, from identifying a development challenge in their target area to implementing an innovative solution to solve the challenge. The focus in the groups should be to leverage digital technologies in developing their innovations.

These working groups would help participants to further enhance their teamwork, complex problem solving and creativity capabilities. The program would also further develop their emotional intelligence because the participants would have to use their human skills in practical workplace settings to communicate and get along with others from different backgrounds.

These students would graduate after submitting a tangible, tested and scalable innovation that would solve social problems, and lead to entrepreneurship and employment opportunities. Also, they would be ready to work in the digital economy!

 

Wrixon Mpanang’ombe, a Malawian national, is a winner of the World Bank Africa’s 2019 Blog4Dev competition.

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