Zim economy: Educational planning for innovation — Part Three…innovation and socio-economic transformation

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THE path to growth can never be free from stress; hence the need for a clear sense of direction and purpose.
Our economic blueprint, the Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Socio-Economic Transformation (Zim-ASSET), is a major compass to our ideal destination.
It challenges us to treat the constraints bedevilling our economy as an opportunity to introduce social transformations that aim to redefine and re-orient our economic and social plans.
The economic blueprint identifies four major pillars that the nation needs to focus on in order to rejuvenate economic performance.
I need not over-stress that these pillars (food security and nutrition, social services and poverty eradication, infrastructure and utilities as well as value-addition and beneficiation) dovetail and need not be treated in isolation.
I must, however, hasten to emphasise that since beneficiation cuts across all these, it must be given serious consideration and that all efforts of research and innovation must be directed towards it.
To this end, I wish to underline that innovation is key to economic growth and social progress.
There is absolutely no doubt that successful solutions to societal challenges require the engagement of all types of stakeholders such as higher education institutions, companies, entrepreneurs and investors. Individual organisations or single disciplinary approaches cannot guarantee robust results.
The point has already been made that collaborative and multi-disciplinary activities across the borders and systematic approaches are central ingredients of success in this endeavour.
Indeed, the prosperity of regional economies increasingly depends on the development of knowledge clusters, where a number of actors from different sectors and disciplines are connected together and continuously interact to advance knowledge and innovation.
How redesigning the curriculum can lead to innovation
To achieve the much desired innovation, however, we need to tweak the curriculum in a fundamental way.
And to do so, we need to examine the entire educational curriculum as a complete cosmos.
The systems approach to course designing and redesigning is therefore called upon to deal with this re-engineering of the curriculum agenda.
Ludwig von Bertalanffy is recognised as the founder of general system theory.
The system approach is based on the concept that an organisation is a system.
A system is defined as a number of interdependent parts functioning as a whole for some purpose.
Here, there are five components — inputs, a transformation process, outputs, feedback, and the environment.
The systems approach is a philosophy of a way of thinking which facilitates understanding and handling of a complex situation or phenomenon.
It is a way of looking at the empirical world in which individual phenomena are viewed as interrelated rather than isolated ones.
Systems thinking rejects the concept of dualism of body and mind, man and nature, individual and society, and provides integrated conception of universe as a dynamic organisation of many levels (supra-systems, systems and sub-systems) exhibiting great complexity of details yet harmony of all over design.
This means thinking about phenomena or facts or events in terms of their wholeness: “The concept of wholeness defines the character of the system (phenomenon) as such, in contrast to the character of its parts in isolation.
A whole possesses characteristics which are not possessed by parts singly.
In so far as this is the case, therefore, the whole is other than the simple sum of its parts.”
For example, anatom is other than the sum of the component particles taken individually and added together; a nation is other than the sum of individual beings composing it.
In general systems theory, a system is any collection of interrelated parts that together constitute a larger whole.
These component parts or elements of the system are intimately linked to one another, either directly or indirectly and any change in one or more elements may affect the overall performance of the system, either beneficially or adversely.
A simple system is illustrated schematically in the diagram below:
Figure 1
Source: – http://www2.rgu.ac.uk/celt/pgcerttlt/systems/sys5.htm
In Figure 1, the system consists of six distinct elements which are related to or dependent upon each other as indicated.
Note that some interrelationships may be two-way, while others may be one-way only.
These elements may themselves be capable of further breakdown into other smaller components and may thus be regarded as sub-systems of the overall system.
The first circle in Figure 1 focuses on target population characteristics and topic area.
The range of backgrounds, interests, knowledge, attitudes and skills of students coming on to the course will have a strong influence on course design which point is critical for developing countries.
Pre-knowledge and any common misconceptions will have to be catered for in the design of the course (these may, for example, affect sequence, structure and support mechanisms).
The broad thrust of the course content will also have to be considered.
Consideration will be given to the sort of people whom the course is trying to develop.
The subject area may have traditional aims and directions, but one may wish to consider the justification of these and/or preparation for future change.
Secondly, there is need to estimate relevant existing skills and knowledge of learners.
There may be minimum standards of entry to the course, but this will not always be so.
For example, the increasing numbers of non-standard and mature student entrants to higher education will not necessarily have conventional paper qualifications, but may possess skills and qualities which will have an influence on course design.
This may have implications for teaching methods, bridging courses and support systems, among others.
This is followed by formulation of objectives/learning outcomes. The objectives and learning outcomes of the course or curriculum element will attempt to encapsulate the new skills, knowledge or attitudes which it is intended that the students will acquire.
They may be formulated by the learners themselves, by teaching staff, by a validating, examining or professional body or by some combination of these and other sources.
Then comes selection of appropriate instructional methods.

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