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African HE curricula “failing” to train youth entrepreneurs

A report by an American-African consortium is calling on African higher learning institutions to strengthen entrepreneurship education and training, asserting that ‘traditional’ curricula have failed to train youth to be self-employed and job creators.

The report said that the digital divide among mentors and beneficiaries, especially youth entrepreneurs in rural villages, needs to be reduced. Photo: pexels

In Kenya, youths lacked the marketing skills to sell their talents to potential investors or employers

The report by the Alliance for African Partnership, a collaboration between Michigan State University of US and partner universities from all regions of the continent, faults curricula in many African countries for training youth to work for the formal sector, leaving “little space for innovation or creativity”.

In the study, conducted in nine African countries, African youth are also found not to be adequately equipped with the right skill sets to expand and be creative beyond seeking employment in the public sector.

“There is a noticeable skill gap in every country”

“Entrepreneurship training is a common challenge in all the countries that participated in this study. Although universities, vocational schools, and NGOs contribute to entrepreneurship training, there is a noticeable skill gap in every country,” the Youth Entrepreneurial Ecosystem for Sustainable Development in Sub-Saharan Africa report, dated April 2022, found.

It noted that while multiple training and skill development programs have been initiated to support employment and prepare the workforce to meet market demands, the continent’s youth were still faced by the challenge of unemployment, mainly because the skill set they acquire is often ‘incompatible’ with the labour market.

In addition, the study presents country-specific scenarios finding that in South Africa, the continent’s leading economy for example, the “gap between job seekers and employment expands every year”, partly due to “supply-and-demand issues”, owing to the fact graduates lacked the appropriate training when they entered the labour market.

In Kenya, youths lacked the marketing skills to sell their talents to potential investors or employers, and had inadequate branding and marketing skills, a reflection of deficiencies in the kind of training the students received.

At the same time, it revealed that graduates from the same country’s Technical Vocational Education Training Institutions were however better equipped for both employment and self-employment, thanks to the training and skill development they received in the institutions. On the other hand, universities and vocational programs in Mali and Malawi are more likely to promote training for self-employment.

“This work helps African higher learning institutions re-examine approaches they have honed through decades of commitment to teaching and researching about youth in Africa,” wrote Richard Mkandawire director of AAP Africa Office in the forward to the report.

With a sample size of 304, the study was led by Anastacia Mamabolo of University of Pretoria and Abou Traore of MSU. It was conducted in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Botswana, Malawi, Senegal, Nigeria, Mali and South Africa.

“Participants recommended that entrepreneurship education should be introduced across degree programs”

It recommends that there be specialised entrepreneurial programs for graduates, and while it did not focus on primary school education, it advises that entrepreneurship education must be incorporated at early stages of education. It adds that higher institutions’ development of the “entrepreneurial ecosystem” must be done in collaboration with external stakeholders including NGOs and the private sector.

“In some institutions, entrepreneurship is offered as a standalone course or degree; therefore, the participants recommended that entrepreneurship education should be introduced across degree programs,” it advises.

On the other hand, entrepreneurship teachers ought to have some form of entrepreneurial experience so as to enhance their teaching methodologies, and there must be a scheme to support continuous development of the teachers.

It calls for coordinated efforts to bridge the gap between theory and practice, noting that there ought to be a well articulated criterion for selecting entrepreneurial students to be part of the entrepreneurship programs, with a focus on those willing and with a passion for solving societal issues.

Institutions of higher education must however be careful and collaborate with other entrepreneurship ecosystem actors to avoid duplication of activities. “Universities could use alumni and local experts to serve as mentors, coaches, and funders of student entrepreneurial activities,” it said.

“An entrepreneurial training program must not be generic but specific to student entrepreneurs’ needs focusing on ideation, start-up, and business development,” it added.

Authors of the study who included nine researchers in the AAP consortium partner institutions in the target countries also recommended that the design of programs should consider the local context.

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