· The mission of “The Design and Technology Institute”.
Progress by any other name is spelled W-O-R-K. And the earlier we let the nation’s youth appreciate the necessity for productive work, the better it will serve Ghana and the rest of Africa. In truth, the fruits of a meaningful education are not theories, they must be seen.
The question of what educational outcomes to expect as exit points for the youth is no longer an isolated challenge. To escape the traps of poverty, the more relevant demand is how schools can develop curricula that produce hands-on skills and material products to keep pace with the needs of a rapidly changing world.
Constance Swaniker’s DTI
That fact serves the mission of The Design and Technology Institute (DTI), Accra, founded by Constance Swaniker. Bless her heart, she’s introduced a vitality extremely rare in the education ecosystem. In speaking with her, amid the grinding and clatter of her workshop, she said, “We have signed memorandums of understanding (MOUs) with KNUST’s College of Engineering, and College of Arts. Students are coming also from Ashesi; they’re coming from Takoradi Polytechnic, Koforidua Polytechnic. We have kids coming from the north. I mean, basically, the whole of Ghana. They spend 10 to 12 weeks with us. We throw them into the workshops with our workers. They work on real life projects and they get to feel for the first time working with hand tools, working on a shop floor and producing something. They produce things you can see and use, not just writing things you don’t even understand in a book report.”
She said, “Not only that, it shows them the possibilities of where the careers will take them. Because when I was at Tech (Kwame Nkrumah University Science and Technology – KNUST), I just did art for art’s sake. But it was only my experience working in carpentry that exposed me to this. So in my class at Tech we were about 300, only about 2 or 3 people ended up in industries; so fast forward, that’s when I realized there was such a gap with no link to the industries, so a lot of people didn’t really know why they were studying what they were studying and what they could use their education for.”
Pointing to the shop floor she said, “This is where we do a lot of the training; more of the practical aspects of what happens in the industry. So we’re doing manufacturing, engineering, we’re doing health and safety, a bit of entrepreneurship, we’re doing all sorts. Everything that happens here is practical, and then the theory.”
Reflecting on the trainees, she added, emotionally, “This is the only opportunity they get to experience what happens in real industry. So you’re not just doing art for art’s sake; but it prepares you for the demands of industry because a lot of times that’s not part of the school curriculum. This doesn’t happen in school and that’s the problem with what we’re saying about the academic syllabus. How can you do a practical subject if you’re not exposed to environments like this?”
Of theories and unemployment
To unwittingly educate the youth into a life of poverty is bad enough; but to not even see that calamity is worse. In the past, university students – for example – were giving academic education for free and then raised with a sense of entitlement, that is, the expectation of a cool and cushy government office job.
It is now common place for university graduates to spend years after their education looking for employment that does not exist, and yet our academic prone universities continue to produce human resource people, marketers, sociologists, and administrators who can neither be absorbed by the job market nor branch out as entrepreneurs.
The multitude of unalloyed theories cause people to remain stuck, unskilled, unproductive, and unfulfilled. Not grounded in practice, a good many academic degrees today are almost worthless; they float miserably with the wind. That is the despair passing for education in Africa, hence the mass unemployment, underemployment and persistent poverty. The sickening irony is that the very same academicians leading and looping those cycles of poverty are the same ones we expect to resolve the impasse!
Today’s students, as leaders and productive citizens, need a set of skills that efficiently use our rapidly diminishing resources by harnessing Africa’s collective intelligence. These are the assertive skills for the 21st century.
The jobs paradox in Africa
There is a job paradox in Africa. Numerous positons remain open for technicians, welders, mechanics, engineers, plumbers and electricians, but the number of qualified locals is low. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) reports that less than 5% of Africans enroll in formal technical or vocational training programs.
Prosperous nations support the manpower that takes care of their basic needs; conversely, to be known and stereotyped as the ones with begging bowls, asking for alms from countries with a work ethic, is a disgrace devoutly to be avoided.
DTI was established as a result of experiences from the construction and creative industry by its parent company Accents and Art Limited (AAL). Over the last several years, AAL has provided high quality training and internship opportunities to hundreds of students from the Opportunities Industrialization Centre (OIC), National Vocational Training Institute (NVTI) and many other technical institutions in Ghana.