#LWOL: A discussion with Yunus Suleman on the impact of Africa’s Education system on our society and corporate environment

#LWOL: A discussion with Yunus Suleman on the impact of Africa’s Education system on our society and corporate environment

“Literacy is a right and a foundation for lifelong learning, better well-being and livelihoods. As such it is a driver for sustainable and inclusive development.”- UNESCO

With International Literacy Day just around the corner, we invited Yunus Suleman to host yesterday’s ‘Lunch with Our Leaders’ discussion on our LinkedIn forum. The topic was ‘Africa’s Education System: the impact on our society and corporate environment.’

For those of you unfamiliar with him, Yunus worked in Nigeria for two years heading up the Andersen Audit & Consulting Practice. He returned to South Africa in 2000 to head up the National Audit Practice of South Africa before the merger with KPMG in 2002. He has been an Audit Partner on listed clients in the telecoms, retail (FMCG), manufacturing and other industries, and has been in the profession for 33 years. He has also played a number of other leadership roles in IRBA, ABASA and Enactus over the years.

With such credentials we were all naturally eager to hear his thoughts on this important topic. Below we highlight some of the questions that were posed to Yunus during the lunch hour, along with his answers.

The value of African qualifications versus foreign ones

Q. Employers in Nigeria have placed higher value on foreign education/certifications. This position has tendencies to continuously undermine local educational institution/system while funds that can be used to develop local schools are sent abroad in the guise of tuition fees… The long-term effect of this on Nigeria does not look good. What is your take on this?

A. Good point, and this is not just peculiar to Nigeria alone, in fact, many of the third-world countries are guilty of this.

Employers and HR practitioners all over are connected by one factor: Globalisation! Businesses and multinationals are now being represented on a global scale and may tend to look for personnel that have been trained, equipped and prepared to take on challenges, right out of school.

Stakeholders in Africa’s education system need to critically scrutinize our syllabus; do they prepare the students for practical adaptability or just theoretically? Colleges and Technical schools must live up to their expectations. Science schools must experiment and come up with solutions. There is one thing HR practitioners recognise easily, and that is solution! If an African candidate is seen as a solution provider, he/she has a better chance over a candidate with a foreign certificate.

But to get to that level, we need to critically ensure that our system supports both theory and practical impartation.

How can private firms help graduates find jobs?

Q. Education without empowerment is nothing. Certificates and no job to do after graduation is pathetic! How can private firms assist?

A. Agreed. Private firms can help counter this phenomenon in a number of ways, e.g. KPMG initiated a GAP program called “Project Hands” – this resulted in 64 unemployed graduates being placed at the Department of Public Works where they gained practical experience to make them more employable. After a year of training the majority were permanently employed.

The private sector can also play a part in empowering graduates by providing mentorships, apprenticeships, online training, access to business networks, computers, etc.

I also think that there is a dire need for students to not only look to private sector for jobs, but start their own businesses. Africa’s growth is dependent on the growth of entrepreneurs and the SMME sector. The African graduate needs to take advantage of this situation. The private sector can play many roles in empowering the entrepreneur, for example by providing access to finance, exposure to best practice, and access to market.

Students also need to be held accountable. There are various sectors throughout Africa where skills shortage is prevalent. Africa needs engineers, auditors and even teachers. Students need to be aware of these gaps in the market, take advantage of them and leverage them in their future career.

Empowerment will come through a combination of 1. structural changes to the education system; 2. private sector supporting the graduates whom they will ultimately employ, as well as providing them with exposure to the working environment; and 3. students taking accountability for their future.

How does the private sector improve education?

Q. The system in Africa is failing and in many countries, it’s even worse than ‘failing’. It is so obvious the governments alone cannot shoulder the burden, firms like yours, DHL, EY, Unilever, BMW, etc. must make it an essential part of their CSR initiative. If they don’t help now, they are one way or the other jeopardizing the future/survival of their corporations.

When I say CSR initiatives, it’s not just distributing books on Mandela Day; after Mandela Day, what do corporates do? Maybe some of them don’t even know how to help, yet they want to. It will be nice if you can highlight what they can do to assist.

A. You raise two very pertinent points: 1. How can business contribute to sustainable change and have a real impact on the education system? and 2. Where and how do business start making this contribution?

Many businesses have CSR initiatives which are education-focused, however, unfortunately they do not bring about the systemic change needed in the education system. The private sector cannot solve the education crisis by themselves. A multi-stakeholder approach needs to be adopted where businesses collaborate with each other and communicate vehemently with government on their CSR plans.

Africa’s education issues cannot be solved by a single brush stroke. There are many issues which need to be addressed from school infrastructure, professionalization of the teaching industry to early childhood development.

Private sector needs to understand where their contribution can be leveraged the most and also clearly understand where government is needing support. They need to realise that there is a clear return on investment and that the improvement of education is an economic necessity. Business needs to invest time and resources into government plans, but more importantly, hold them accountable to deliver on them.

David Okwara

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