February 6, 2018 / 12:51 PM / 8 months ago

With crop skills and coding, new UNICEF chief aims to shake up schools

DAKAR (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - From crop planting to coding, secondary schools worldwide need to teach more practical skills and digital know-how to prepare teens for the future, said UNICEF’s new global chief.

“We’re re-looking at secondary education because we don’t think we’ve gotten it right,” Henrietta Fore, executive director of the U.N. children’s agency, said in an interview.

“It may not be as forward-looking as it could be,” she said on the sidelines of the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), an education financing conference, in Senegal’s capital Dakar.

The GPE said donor countries pledged $2.3 billion at the conference to fund education in up to 89 developing countries.

Fore said UNICEF’s biggest priority is getting children into school, with a quarter of a billion missing out worldwide.

But secondary education is a growing concern and needs innovative reform, she said, after taking the reins of the U.N. agency last month.

“If we think of school - both in a classroom as well as out of a classroom - it means that you can teach curriculums that are useful in the students’ neighborhood.”

In rural areas, this might mean teaching adolescents how to plant and irrigate crops, she said.

In urban settings, digital skills might be more useful.

In most African countries, less than half of secondary school-age youth are enrolled, according to UNICEF, and the continent’s fast-growing population struggles to find work.

Africa is the world’s youngest region, with about a third of people aged between 10 and 24, according to the U.N. Population Fund. Although the majority of African youth work, they still live in poverty, the International Labour Organization says.

School curriculums in sub-Saharan Africa are often poorly adapted to local needs, leaving graduates ill-equipped for the job market, the U.N. cultural agency UNESCO says.

“Most young Africans now have the chance at primary school education, which has been a big change in the last decade,” said Fore. “(But) we really need livelihoods training.”

Integrating digital learning into education - such as using radio to give children lessons in conflict-hit areas where they cannot access traditional schools - should be a priority, she said, as well as teaching maths and science.

“We’ve been finding that technology, no matter how basic, is useful,” she said.

Reporting by Nellie Peyton, Editing by Robert Carmichael and Katy Migiro. Please credit Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit www.trust.org

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