The cross-generational divide in skills, experience and digital fluency introduces new perspectives on empowering youth while retaining old experts.

The Curve of Reckoning

COVID curves and models have been part of our daily vocabulary of late. The 14th Youth Talent and Career Fair by Impact Borderless Digital (IBD) was held on September 25, 2020; it doubled as the second “Talanta Talk” at Talanta Institute, aired live on Talanta TV, Kenya (link to the broadcast). The overarching theme of the youth talent TV talk series has been “Cultivating Skills for Borderless Influence”. The 45-minute TV talk dwelt on Education 4.0: Youth and Post-pandemic Skills to Stay Ahead of the Curve. Education 4.0is part of the global megatrends influenced by Industry 4.0 or the Fourth Industrial Revolution, with internet connectivity at the centre. Generational succession has also been a key focus of the discussions. This is because work ethics and the future of work must be alive to the different contexts that have shaped the worldviews of different generations, from the Lost Generation of the late 1880s, the Silent Generation of the 1920s, Baby Boomers (Me Generation), Generation X, Generation Y (Millennials), Generation Z, and even the new Generation Alpha.

The Confluence of Moments for Education Agenda

Strikingly, the date was also the day of the first virtual graduation ceremony for the country’s top university, the University of Nairobi. The COVID-19 pandemic compelled such a virtual arrangement, which was also the 63rd graduation ceremony. The main speakers at the graduation ceremony emphasised the role of quality research and data in enhancing transparent decision support and sound governance. Dr Vijoo Rattansi, the Chancellor of the university, talked of change and chance as inevitable occurrences — only made more irresistible by the pandemic. She then spared a thought for William Arthur Ward’s quote, “Adversity causes some men to break and others to break records.”

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The TV talk came just three days after the 13th youth talent and career fair in the series, which was also the 5th IBD Virtual Forum on Education 4.0, with Cynthia Chigwenya from The South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA) as the guest speaker. Both events tackled the topic of youth and the skills they need to stay ahead of the curve.The convergence of the key messages was on the need for a diligent and lifelong commitment to skills development in order to cope with the rapidly changing global technology marketplace.

Banking on quality education and training, youth remain central to the changes that should shape economic growth and development agenda in the post-pandemic era. This fact is even more concrete and compelling in Africa, where the median age is barely 20 years. The youth-centric TV broadcast re-emphasised the key areas of skills development that youth need to give priority in the new era to have a fair chance at global competitiveness: digital literacy and fluency, data literacy, global awareness, and refining talents to produce skills that can attract compensation at competitive rates. Up to this point, the agreement on the utility of data and digitalisation for mutual progress across generations remained unanimous — both at the graduation ceremony and the IBD youth forums. The wave of digital transformation, at first sight, presents a ready advantage to the techno-savvy and mainly youthful demographic in the digital economy. This apparent unanimity was, however, challenged as the dichotomy between age and productivity in the academia played out when the country’s Cabinet Secretary for Education, Prof. George Magoha, made a strong appeal for retaining productive professors with unrivalled experience irrespective of their advanced age. He cited that such a special class of experts can deliver “four times more than” the younger generation despite the higher digital literacy of the latter. He also challenged the young graduates to create jobs instead of looking for employment.

The Critical Intergenerational Questions

For the education sector, a day of confluences like this must be pregnant with symbolism, meaning, and reflection as the future of a nation confronts the uncertainties of COVID-19. The world has been treated to closures and re-closures of learning institutions because of the disruptive and resurgent waves of the pandemic. Youth unemployment is a real and growing threat to national development and deserves a more participatory and solution-oriented discussion than isolated policy statements. The following questions should find a central place in shaping reflective and generative dialogue towards reopening learning institutions and ensuring a more impactful post-COVID education sector in Kenya and beyond.

1. With the pandemic-related decimation of private schools and the public-health imperative of social distancing, do we have enough well-equipped and conveniently located public primary and secondary schools to serve the country’s growing number of learners, who are entitled to basic education as a right?

2. Are learning centres equipped to the degree of preparedness that can qualify them as centres for identifying, nurturing, and maturing talents into market-ready skill sets for employability and job creation?

3. Which time-normalised model has been developed to fairly gauge productivity and rewards across the board in the academia, a sort of “Relative Academic Mass” which will ensure no injustice to particular experience and age cohorts, since age and work experience mostly tend to go together?

4. How robust and well-supported are the mentorship programmes in place to sustain skills transfer and reverse mentorship, given the unforgiving speed of technological innovations accelerated by digital transformation?

An open and multi-stakeholder approach to the four questions could well be the fast lane to a just and win-win engagement of the young and their seniors effectively in national transformation. It is not about which party wins the argument as hero, but what works across the board as a sustainable win-win score where it matters most for both parties.

Nashon J. Adero

Nashon, a geospatial expert, lecturer and trained policy analyst applies dynamic models to complex adaptive systems. He is a youth mentor on career development and the founder of Impact Borderless Digital.