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Toxic vested interests behind collapsing economy

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At his birthday bash in Marondera, President Robert Mugabe lamented the high unemployment among the ranks of Zimbabwean graduates.

Painona with Tapiwa Nyandoro

Of more than 14 000 graduates only 10% will be lucky to find employment, he intoned.
The solution to this, the President pontificated, is to train the students to be entrepreneurs.

It was a call echoed by Small and Medium Enterprises deputy minister Noveti Mukonora, a month or so later.

According to a NewsDay report he told Parliament that “there was need to introduce a paradigm shift in the country’s education system to enable tertiary institutions to produce job creators instead of job seekers”.

That is easier said, of course, than done.

For one thing entrepreneurship — that is the pursuit of novel ideas that in the end generate wealth and create formal jobs — usually is funded by unsecured loans.
Up to as much as a million to four million dollars may be needed before venture capital, and later bank loans, join the party.

In the beginning “family and friends” directly and/or indirectly fund entrepreneurs.
Returns are far from being guaranteed, and no bank would survive if it chose, imprudently, this niche as its own.  For the majority of Zimbabweans graduates, there is no such money anywhere. All they need is a job.

The problem of unemployment is horrendous in Zimbabwe, but nonetheless universal.
The reason, according to The Economist (January 18 2014), is: “Innovation, the elixir of progress, has always cost people their jobs.”

The weekly points out that “in the Industrial Revolution artisan weavers were swept aside by the mechanical loom.

“Over the past 30 years (when China and others were industrializing and Zimbabwe in industrial hibernation) the digital revolution has displaced many of the mid skill jobs that underpinned 20th century middle-class life.

“Typists, ticket agents, bank tellers and many production line jobs have been dispensed with just as the weavers were.”

For a solution The Economist opined: “The main way in which governments can help their people through this dislocation is through education systems.

“One of the reasons for the improvement in workers’ fortunes in the latter part of the Industrial Revolution was because schools were built to educate them – a dramatic change at the time.

“Now those schools, themselves need to be changed, to foster the creativity that humans will need to set them apart from computers. There should be less rote-learning and more critical thinking.”

The British weekly agrees with Zimbabwe’s Primary and Secondary Education ministry on the need for pre-schooling stating: “The definition of a state education” may also change.

“Far more money should be spent on pre-schooling, since cognitive abilities and social skills that children learn in their first few years define much of their future potential”.
The Economist’s analysis and conclusion has in mind job profiling and creation in a digital era as opposed to more demanding entrepreneurship.
It is also a First World setting where unemployment and inequity are now major problems, though nothing when compared to the Zimbabwean crisis.
While the First World has resources for pre-schooling and raising the quality of education, Zimbabwe has no such resources, except privately, among the elite where pre-schooling is taken for granted and Thinking Skills is now a Cambridge University Advanced Level subject.
The average Zimbabwean child, teacher and parent have other burdens that work against nurturing critical thinking skills and risk taking, both attributes necessary for entrepreneurship.
Instead they are under siege from trauma, stress and poverty.
Stressed and hungry teachers do not teach well.
The social skills they pass on to their students include low self esteem, the major killer for an entrepreneurship.
Addressing the same topic, Britain’s Labour Party leader Ed Miliband, writing in The Economist (The World in 2014) said: “The debate on how we build success and address the living standards crisis must focus on the jobs we create, the businesses we support, the skills we develop and the vested interests we are prepared to take on.”
The government of Zimbabwe’s failure to take on “the vested interests” of the few in “power” has been its undoing.
Government’s first duty, therefore, is to reform itself, like it is now doing by fighting corruption.
Foreign Affairs deputy minister Chris Mutsvangwa, who chaired a session at the Parliamentary Seminar on ZimAsset, noted the need for deep-rooted reform conceding: “We must abandon ideological rhetoric for practical steps to address our economic problems.”
A University of Johannesburg Professor of Humanities concurs. “A first year student in Humanities”, he wrote in the Financial Mail (January 17 2014) “knows being caught in an ideology (is) always a bad place for an intelligent person to find himself.”

Going forward, “Training and investment”, Mr Miliband said, “will matter more than ever.”
Apart from pre-schooling, turning Mathematics into a hobby seems the training most needed: “If the world’s education systems have a common focus, it is to turn out school leavers who are proficient in Mathematics,” The Economist (February 1 2014) noted.
It added: “Governments are impressed by evidence from the World Bank and others that better Maths results raise gross domestic product and incomes.”
What Maths to teach, when and how to teach it, without putting students off the subject, so as to increase the creative thinking ability needed for jobs in the digital era, is, however, the challenge.
Precedent to that is taking on toxic vested interests at variance with national economic growth.
nyandoro.osbert1@gmail.com or feedback@newsday.co.zw

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