Learning to keep up with the conceptual age

Western European history has the curious habit of declaring every supposed important stage in human development as this or that ‘Age’. There’s the Pre-historic Age/ period, Agrarian Age, Middle Ages, the Industrial Age and now we are supposedly in the knowledge/information/electronic age.
Sam Kebongo
Sam Kebongo

Western European history has the curious habit of declaring every supposed important stage in human development as this or that ‘Age’. There’s the Pre-historic Age/ period, Agrarian Age, Middle Ages, the Industrial Age and now we are supposedly in the knowledge/information/electronic age.

There was once an Industrial Age when industries and everything industrial dominated the world. It was characterised by urbanisation and rapid economic growth as well as rapid rise in population. Before that, the Agrarian Age brought about agricultural revolution that greatly increased agricultural production.

The Knowledge/Information Age is defined as the period beginning in the last quarter of the 20th century (from 1975) when information became easily accessible through publications and manipulation of information by computers and computer networks.

It has brought in big changes in knowledge – how people see it. It is a new, advanced form of capitalism in which ideas are the main source of economic growth (more important than land, labour, money, or other ‘tangible resources). New patterns of work and new business practices have developed, and, as a result, new kinds of workers, with new and different skills, are required.

Knowledge’s meaning is also changing. It is no longer thought of as ‘stuff’ that is developed (and stored) in the minds, represented in books, and classified into disciplines. Instead, it is now thought of as being like a form of energy, as a system of networks and flows – something that does things, or makes things happen. Knowledge Age knowledge is defined—and valued—not for what it is, but for what it can do.

In agrarian or pre-industrial times, most people mainly needed ‘know-how’ kinds of knowledge. In Industrial Age (20th century) societies, on the other hand, people needed different, more abstract – or ‘know what’ – kinds of knowledge. This should be communicated well to be able to work productively in collaboration with others. In a knowledge economy, adaptability, creativity, and innovativeness and an understanding of things at a ‘systems’ or big picture’ level are key.

Learners and workers need to be to think and learn for themselves, sometimes with the help of external authorities and/or systems of rules, but, more often, without this help.

The term Conceptual thinking is simply defined as “the ability to perceive and imagine, predict and hypothesize, and to conclude and reflect.”

In his book, A Whole New Mind, Daniel Pink argues that, as a society, we have transcended the so-called Knowledge Age and are now in a Conceptual Age. Problems no longer have a single verifiable answer. Success in the Knowledge Age is mainly determined by a series of tests throughout the education system that required logic and analysis to identify a single correct answer. This does not meet the needs of the Conceptual Age, which requires creativity, innovation and design skills.

Diligently instilling math, reading, and science skills, etc and then testing to see how much is retained is no longer enough.  Today, a successful member of society must bring something different to the table. Individuals are valued for their unique contributions and their ability to think creatively and imaginatively.

Tables have turned, too, innovations from developing nations trickle-up to the West from emerging to advanced economies. And it is the way of the future. The traditional model of developing new products is quietly reversing course.

The linear model of growth from the prehistoric age to the knowledge age is either only relevant to the West or is just a farce that is not applicable to us in Rwanda and Africa.  We need agriculture as much as we need industry and knowledge in the economy.

We must, as much as possible, thus pursue an ‘all rounded’ development agenda, and creatively so. This is why we must embrace the conceptual age where students will learn to learn and learn by doing. It is best summed up in entrepreneurship where imagination is key.

As the great Einstein put it: imagination is better than knowledge.

Sam Kebongo is an entrepreneurship Development Consultant based in Kigali. sam.kebongo@gmail.com

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