· Entrepreneurship, business & technology.
The sheer numbers of unemployed youth sprawled across the length and breadth of the African continent is a major concern indeed. Noting that the devil finds work for idle hands to do, one would have thought that education was the solution to that predicament, but the large size of unskilled and unemployable graduates served notice that the kind of education foisted on the African youth was shortsighted; the impractical passive elements in it have to be removed.
From passive colonial to modern
It was shocking when a vice-chancellor of a large public university in Ghana said openly some time ago the role of the university was not to train students for jobs, and that that expectation was merely a populist agitation. A successor of that same university was to corroborate – only last year, in a crowded room of people – that “whether we like it or not” the universities were academic institutions.
On all counts, and respectfully, we should not “like” the status quo; it must give way to the needs of the present times. Such inept colonial mindsets needed to be repealed and replaced; and for that reason, the Methodist University College Ghana was to be applauded for an enlightening conference at the M Plaza Hotel (Accra, 27th – 28th March, 2017). Dubbed “International Conference on Entrepreneurship, Business & Technology (ICEBUT), it attracted concerned educators from Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe, South Africa, all looking for dynamic ways of education in their respective countries.
The ICEBUT 2017 Organising Committee led by the director, Institute of Education and Entrepreneurship – Prof Ato Essuman, and Principal – Prof Akwasi Asabere-Ameyaw, intoned that the “Recognition of entrepreneurship as an engine of economic growth could contribute to the transformation of sub-Saharan African countries from aid-recipient countries wealth-creating countries.” In attendance as another keynote speaker was Prof Constant Buegre of Delaware State University, USA.
President Nana Akufo-Addo
The event was graced by the presence of the President, Nana Akuffo Addo, and the Presiding Bishop of the Methodist Church – Most Rev Kwesi Awotwi Pratt. In the president’s address, it was refreshing to hear him remind participants that the economy and job creation dominated the nation’s conversation. He said, “I believe we are all agreed now that we cannot continue with the business as usual path [to] create the jobs that we need.”
He said (as detailed in the Daily Graphic, March 28th, 2017) his government was of “the firm belief that the fastest way to resolve [the] problems of an economy that failed to meet the needs of the people and an alarming rate of unemployment lay in entrepreneurship, institutions and the creation of a conducive environment for private business to thrive.” He stressed that there is much work to be done by the civil service, the government, educational institutions, and the business community.
[The president’s concerns about the cloak of religious habits that robbed the state of countless hours of productive time was so apt it will be covered separately in a different column.]
Plenary sessions and abstracts
Plenary sessions at the conference included wide ranging topics such as: Entrepreneurship Education; Universities, Industry & Employability; Innovations in Technology; Finance & Business Growth; and so on. Various abstracts were presented including Entrepreneurial Skills Training in Early Childhood Education from the Obafemi Awolowo University, Nigeria; Entrepreneurship Training: The case of orange farmers in Muheza, Tanzania; Art and Design and Technical Education at the secondary level in Zimbabwe; Integrating Entrepreneurial Studies into Technical Vocational Education in South Africa; The role of microfinance, Ghana; Strategic Partnership between University and Industry, Uganda; University-Industry Collaboration, Zambia.
My keynote address
In my keynote address titled, “The relevant education for Africa in the 21st century”, I stressed the following relevant educational outcomes for our students to become entrepreneurs: The first is that they have to be able to produce something, a product to show for the effort; two, they have to be in the position to provide a particular kind of service; and lastly, they need to be in a position to solve a pressing societal problem.
Students in the various districts have to be taught and encouraged to become entrepreneurs by the ability to add value to the natural endowment peculiar to that particular area. We have tried the academics for the past years and the youth are failing in droves.
At the university levels, science education, for example, has to help the youth produce electric bulbs, electric and water meters. That is what science education is for. But we have young people trapped behind desks, copying lecture notes and forever doing mathematical calculations. It’s not helping us. So those who are themselves teaching the youth need to have skills for entrepreneurship, and avoid the “chew, pour, pass, forget and be poor” business?
In any of our provision shops in Ghana, most of the imported items there can be produced locally. I was in Thailand in October 2015; they make almost everything they need so there’s not that much pressure on their currency, the Thai Baht. They produce their own juices; rice; chickens; soaps and deodorant; textiles for towels, underwear, T shirts; computers; electricals, and so on. So they are quite independent and the standard of living is quite high at a much cheaper than in Africa. For us we import everything because education is not directed at producing the important consumer and infrastructural items we need. Why, for instance, does Ghana import tons and tons of expensive aluminium wires for the domestic electricity grid when we have a bauxite smelter in Tema?
The education as practiced in many parts of Africa deceived the youth and the conference was keen on avoiding the decadence and raise entrepreneurs for Africa’s future.