How to fix the gap between education and employment

Tuesday July 21 2020

 

By Austine Bukenya

So, at what age should a child be productive to the country’s economy? It’s a question that was posed to the Dean of Students at Management Training Advisory Centre (MTAC) in Nakawa, Kampala, who says age 10 is ripe for a child to be productive.

Dar es Salaam University graduate Ulimwengu Rashid was introduced to vocational training at a tender age, and he reminisces the good old days where at Primary Three, he engaged in handiwork by making winnowing trays, fishing gear, mats and hoe handles which the local community later bought from the school.

“If at that age, I could make a product that can be used in homesteads, I don’t see why someone cannot be engaged in production such as baking for instance,” he says.

The World Bank indicates Tanzania’s median productive age is 18 making it one of the youngest population in the world.

However, Tanzania’s education system is a four tier structure modeled along a 7-4-2-3 year progression pattern: seven years of primary education, followed by four years of secondary level, two years of upper secondary or high school level and three to five years of tertiary education.

This model therefore shows that a Tanzanian student spends an average of 16 years in the education system until they graduate.

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However, the number of years a student spends in school could be much longer with the advent of early childhood education programme.

Inspite of spending a lot of time in school, employers are not impressed with the quality of graduates churned out every year, who lack key practical and emotional skills to survive in the job market.

This debate has been reignited many times by academicians and employers at education forums. With the degree losing relevance each passing year. Some employers in the corporate world say companies are shifting their recruitment models away from asking for academic papers to testing key skills such as creativity.

“We need to train students to be lifelong learners and with skills that are not class related,” says a bank executive.

In a previous interview with Success, top tech entrepreneur and CEO of Smart Codes Edwin Bruno concurred with the argument that top companies in the world no longer consider the degree as the ultimate necessity in recruitment but rather, competence and skills.

Prof Mahmood Mamdani’s analysis of the Arts Faculty in the early 1990s in his book, Scholars in the Market Place, pin points to why there’s no homogeneity in learning and the industry. He writes that in the early 1990s, the Faculty of Arts at big universities in East Africa such as University of Dar es Salaam and Makerere University was presented with a dilemma. Students’ applications were declining at the time, with talk in the corridors of closing down the faculty in Uganda.

However, Prof Mamdani writes that Dr E. Beyaraza, a lead reformer in the faculty, recalled at a workshop that the real issue was what one would do after getting a degree in Geography, History, Languages, Literature, Music, Dance and Drama (MDD), Philosophy, Religious Studies, among other areas of study at the Arts Faculty’. The simple fact was that these subjects—known as BA ‘Flat’—had a contemplative, reflective and laid-back feel to them. They represented the elitist core of a university curriculum of colonial vintage.

Freshly returned with a PhD from Germany, Dr E. Beyaraza understood that the Faculty of Arts was severely handicapped when it came to competing in the job market place.

Prof. Mamdani writes that Dr Beyaraza later recalled: “It is possible to commercialise education whereby powerful industries infiltrate universities and sponsor courses therein, tailored to those industries’ needs. In this case, Arts subjects are hardly as [good] candidates as sciences, technology, among others,” he noted, and explained that what was important to note, however, is that in countries such as Uganda or even Tanzania, such industries and their possible commercialisation of education are absent.

The reformers were determined to transform the faculty. Their rallying cry was simple: relevance. And their notion of relevance was wholly market-oriented: only those skills were relevant for which there was a demand in the market place; thus, change the curriculum to teach students skills that would get them jobs.

The reformers had a bold and most unorthodox answer to this dilemma: simply take any Arts subject, join it with a skill in demand and teach the combination as a single course.

Prof. Abdul B.K Kasozi presented a paper titled: ‘Transitioning African universities from mainly teaching to both training and knowledge production institutions,’ at the15th RUFORUM annual general meeting at University of Cape Coast, Ghana in December, 2019.

Prof. Kasozi noted that industries in the job market are only interested in funding profitable areas of teaching and not research.

As a result, most of our universities are teaching institutions focusing mainly on the “production of skilled manpower” with little attention to research, knowledge production and innovation.

An article from the Lancet journal, shows how backward Africa is in knowledge production. It states that although the continent has 13 per cent of global population, its contribution to global research output is just one per cent.

Prof. Kasozi mentions that the major cause for Africa’s failure to produce knowledge is lack of state investment in research and development and making the university the core of national innovation systems.

Research output in science, technology, engineering and mathematics in Africa has been declining by 0.2 per cent each year since 2002 although there have been some increases in the life and food sciences areas.

One of the major causes of Africa’s failure to contribute to knowledge is its failure to throw away the neoliberal mentality of thinking that the market can effectively fund higher education yet market models regard education as commodities for sale and education institutions as merchants selling education products to customers called students.

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