Needed: A curriculum that means business

19th April 2019 By: Martin Zhuwakinyu - Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor

Unemployment is a major socioeconomic problem in Africa, and the youth bear its brunt. The massive investments in education and the copious flows of private-sector investment have not made a sufficiently big dent in it.

This is perhaps a good enough reason for governments to change tack and emphasise entrepreneurship-focused education so that, should our school-leavers fail to land an 8-to-5 position in some company, they will not become despondent but put to use the skills they would have acquired in high school by engaging in activities that will guarantee them an income stream that will, at the very minimum, take care of their living expenses.

The kind of education I am referring to is one that inculcates an entrepreneurial disposition into our youngsters – not the type that elevates history above other subjects, which is what Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga is hell-bent on doing. Her other pet project is the introduction of Swahili – the East African lingua franca – as an optional subject in South African schools. If she has her way, before too long, phrases like asante sana, habari gana and nafurahi kukuona will become commonplace on the streets of many neighbourhoods in Mzansi.

Angie must ditch these mind-boggling pursuits and redirect the energy and resources they would require towards her new-found passion: technical subjects. South African media reported last month that coding and robotics would soon be included in the Grade R to Grade 9 curriculum to ready our children for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Coding as a subject will be piloted in 2020 at 1 000 schools across five provinces. The University of South Africa has agreed to make its 24 ICT labs countrywide available for the training of 72 000 educators who will be teaching the subject.

But, for me, first prize is entrepreneurship education. In a recent piece singing its praises, Global Entrepreneurship Network Africa co-chairperson Kizito Okechukwu states: “Entrepreneurship education benefits students from all socioeconomic backgrounds because it teaches kids to think outside the box and nurtures unconventional talents and skills. Further, it creates opportunities, ensures social justice, instils confidence and stimulates the economy. Sure, inculcating a culture of entrepreneurship won’t instantly wipe away youth unemployment. But it can reduce unemployment by giving young people the skills they need to create their own businesses and generate work for themselves or others outside the formal job market.”

Do I hear someone saying a multiplicity of good-quality business-related courses are offered at many a college or university in Africa and that these institutions are the ones that should be creating young entrepreneurs? But the point is fewer than 10% of those who graduate from the continent’s high schools proceed to tertiary education institutions, according to the World Bank. So, most school-leavers – those who do not make it to college or university – are becoming entrepreneurs by default (because there are simply not enough formal jobs). We need to equip them earlier on with business skills so as to enhance their chances of success.

Indeed, in a study published towards the end of last year, academics Michael Gaotlhobogwe and Adri du Toit, of the University of Botswana and South Africa’s North-West University respectively, contend that entrepreneurship education is most effective when it is offered from a young age. Thus, they question the efficacy of the entrepreneurship development programmes provided by South Africa’s National Youth Development Agency and Botswana’s Youth Empowerment Scheme and Youth Development Fund for people who would have left school.

I hear Gauteng Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi is a strong advocate for the entrepreneurial mindset agenda in various schools in the province. Perhaps he should be encouraged to whisper the merits of this agenda in Angie’s ear. She is bound to listen because, apparently, there is good chemistry between them. They worked together for some time, with Angie as the principal and Lesufi as her spokesperson.