by Fanuel Muindi, PhD
We completely agree with Michelle Obama that we all should Let Girls Learn. The fact that 62 million girls worldwide are not in school is a heartbreak (1). Many point to the lack of resources as the issue, but as Michelle Obama pointed out in her recent CNN article, “often the root of the problem is really about attitudes and beliefs.” To expand on this important point, we think there needs to be a vigorous effort to expand the meaning of education to directly challenge attitudes and beliefs. What does good education entail? Beyond earning higher salaries, boosting a country’s GDP, and so many other good things, why is education so important for young women and men alike? We think the answer lies in the power of knowing not what to think about, but perhaps even more important, HOW to think about issues. It is critical that this important foundation is not left behind and is mentioned explicitly when we are talking about education. It is conceivable that young people may go to school and not learn HOW to think properly. This skill is absolutely important in today’s world.
More than ever, we are surrounded by more and more information. However, we typically have very little understanding that goes with it. It is easy to jump to the wrong conclusion. Having the necessary skills to come to reasonable conclusions given data is essential. Critical thinking skills can indeed be nurtured and cultivated in young people from an early age. We need to make sure that as many teachers as possible around the world are equipped with the knowledge in HOW to cultivate this important skill in young people. We think a careful fusion of science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (STEAM) can significantly increase the probability of achieving this important goal. Organizations like the Massachusetts-based non-profit organization STEAM Studio Education Foundation – which aims to “create a new approach to learning that is more tinkerable, more meaningful, and showcases diversity” – should be encouraged. There needs to be both a local and global discussion about how STEAM can be integrated in school curriculums to achieve this goal. We need more young women and men to learn how to think deeply about issues and problems across fields. They need to learn HOW to identify the right problem and HOW to go about finding good solutions.
The lack of resources is an impediment in many places around the world. Mrs. Obama is right in that attitudes and beliefs will present a major challenge to education especially for young women. Initiatives like Michelle Obama’s Let Girls Learn are important. Clearly, more investments are needed. As we start to get more investments, let us also think deeply about those important skills we need all young people around the world to have in-order for them to be informed and constructive global citizens.