A New Educational Model for Developing Countries

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A robust educational model that combines traditional content with critically important financial, health, and administrative skills, which can be delivered via existing school systems and teachers, has been developed.

The model, which we call “school for life,” shifts the goal of schooling away from the achievement of standardized learning outcomes toward making a positive impact on the economic and social well-being of students and their communities. The model requires significant changes in both content and pedagogy. First, entrepreneurship and health modules are mandatory curriculum components for all primary grade students. Second, student-centered learning methods are used that require students to work in groups to solve complex problems and manage projects on their own.

This approach is inspired by models of adult education in developing countries that focus on self-efficacy as a critical foundation of positive livelihood and health-seeking behaviors, along with active-learning pedagogies used in progressive schools throughout the world. The health curriculum draws on the work of the World Health Organization and focuses on preventing disease, caring for sick children, and obtaining medical care. The entrepreneurship curriculum is informed by our work with adult entrepreneurs in developing countries, and it draws ideas from a broad range of financial and entrepreneurial programs developed by organizations like the International Labour Organization, Junior Achievement, and Aflatoun.

Conceptual knowledge is put into practice at school through activities that empower children to use what they have learned. For example, students practice routine health behaviors, such as hand washing and wearing shoes near latrines—and, to the extent feasible, gain exposure to other important behaviors, such as boiling drinking water and using malaria nets. They practice routine market-like transactions by earning points for schoolwork and budgeting those points to obtain valuable prizes, such as sitting in a favorite chair or being first in line.

Students also develop higher order skills as they work in committees to develop and execute complex projects. Health-related projects can range from planning and carrying out an athletic activity to be played during recess, to practicing diagnostic skills when classmates are ill—helping to decide, for example, when a cold has turned into a respiratory infection that requires antibiotics. Entrepreneurship projects include identifying and exploiting market opportunities through business ideas like school gardens or community recycling that creates real value. Students learn and practice workplace skills and attitudes like delegation, negotiation, collaboration, and planning—opportunities that are rarely available to them outside their families.

Some school systems, especially at the secondary level, have begun to include entrepreneurship and health topics in their curricular requirements. But including information in basic lectures is not enough. Schools must simultaneously adopt action-oriented pedagogical approaches that hone critical thinking skills and enable children to identify problems, seek out and evaluate relevant information and resources, and design and carry out plans for solving these problems. This involves tackling real problems that require and empower students to take the initiative and responsibility for their own learning.

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