Our Education is Our Undoing

Published on 26th September 2006

My mother used to lash me before sending me on a marathon the whole 4km walk to the nearest village school. I was a staunch adversary to the idea of going to school and deployed every trick to avoid it. My mother on the other hand had it all figured out. I was supposed to become the first female doctor in my village, irrespective of the fact that I was not competent in core subjects like mathematics and sciences.

My high school friend Moses has an interesting story to tell. He used to skip school just to execute hide and seek manuvouers and listen to his grandmother’s intriguing tales of ancient human freaks, giant ogres and small men with magical powers. This got his father emotionally charged and he employed his leather belt on the youngman’s backside alongside warnings and threats that made him sweat bullets.  

“If you do not study hard to become a rich lawyer like Okello, the son of the village well caretaker, I will disown you!” He threatened.

Shaken by the thought of perishing a fatherless, homeless, societal misfit, Moses burnt every calorie, acquired a sight defect reading books, fed on beans with umpteen battalions of maggots doing jigs, accompanied by bitter posho and banked rib breaking beds, to fit into his father’s perfectly painted dream. Guess what? Today, Moses is a highly successful businessman, complete with a huge hardware and wholesale shop, with distribution points countrywide.

Recently, I went to attend my nephew’s end of term party at his primary school. Smartly dressed girls and boys were led in a number of beautiful choruses, to entertain the guests by one of their teachers. Next, the young children were given opportunities to present their dream before their parents. One by one, boys and girls came on stage and almost said the same things. “I want to become a lawyer.” “I want to become a doctor.” “I will become an engineer.’ This was followed by clapping and cheering from the audience. Then something different happened. Beaming with excitement, a young boy stepped on the platform and said “I want to become a businessman just like daddy.” The clapping dwindled. The young man’s face grew long and he left in tears.  

In Uganda today, each time the candidate class results are released, a majority of those that have emerged the best still play the same doctor, lawyer and engineer tune at such a time when the world is increasingly changing with globalization and improved technologies. An interview with students in higher institutions in the country reveals that the subject of entrepreneurship and business as a profession is still treated with contempt, doubt and perceived to be for those that are academically stunted with no better options at their disposal. It is still considered that business is a last resort when all other avenues have failed.

In a move to uplift business as a professional field of study and practice, institutions like Makerere-University business school and other government and private institutions have incorporated courses such as Bachelor of Entrepreneurship, Bachelor of Business Administration and Bachelor of International Business in their systems and have increasingly been admitting large numbers of students to pursue these courses to bridge the gap. This has however not done much to fight the country’s huge unemployment problem as most of these graduates still “comb the streets” in search of juicy jobs with posh non-governmental organizations and well funded government ministries and departments. It isn’t strange to find a whole class of graduates in international business sending in applications to media houses for example, to be employed as sales executives, when they have all the knowledge, skills and capital to set up private businesses.

Is this a question of poor educational systems and tutorial methods that train job seekers than creators, or a lack of creativity on the part of the graduates? The answer lies in perception. Like, Dr Reed Lawrence of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy puts it; “Ideas make the world go round. Come to think of it, without ideas, the world would be like a tree that occupies the same spot till the day it’s mercilessly chopped down to create space.”

It is time Africans dropped the archaic thinking that going to school is just for one to sit in a huge, air-conditioned office, with a private secretary, and drive the latest 4WD car. We should instead adapt to a new, more sophisticated and upto-date meaning to life that uplifts hard work, innovation and promotes individual liberty. It’s disheartening to see thousands of young Ugandan graduates, diploma holders, high school, and secondary school leavers being air lifted to a highly insecure country like Iraq, and offered meager payments to provide perimeter security services when they have all the potential to create wealth right here at home.

Business and entrepreneurship is a critical area that Africans must pay attention to in order to rediscover themselves and launch into development. Africa has the people, the skill and potential. All that is required is a generation of young people who will refuse to be satisfied with the notion that the government and other people are better employers but steadily and strongly believe in personal effort. So what are we waiting for?  It’s time, let’s do it!

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