(By Femi Oni)

It is against this background that entrepreneurship education fills the missing gaps in our educational system that hitherto produced job seekers instead of prospective employers. The unemployment, and by extension, the poverty level within the country are consequences of the nation’s faulty planning. There is not only a need to bring out the latent entrepreneurial talents in our citizens of all ages, there is also the urgent need to arrest the ever growing population of unemployed and unemployable graduates by filling–in the missing link in their educational careers.

NO fewer than 19 people were reported dead among the over one million applicants for the Nigerian Immigration aptitude test. The truth has been laid bare- 5,000 or so vacancies declared by Immigration Service attracted more than six million applicants, from which over half a million was shortlisted, according to published reports. This is not unconnected with the unemployment problem plaguing the nation.This alarming level of graduate unemployment and the attendant youth restiveness makes entrepreneurship training an urgent need. All over the world, there is an awakening to the reality of a direct relationship between prosperous nations and entrepreneurship. Now, it has been realised that if a country must develop and become prosperous, it must have a vibrant entrepreneurial base through its youth population who are burning with imagination, passion, energy, creativity and intelligence. Entrepreneurship development is therefore a vital need for every country that is committed to economic growth and development.  In Nigeria, entrepreneurship has become not only a growing but an urgent need. The nation needs to stimulate the entrepreneurial mindsets of its young people, encourage innovative business start-ups, and foster a culture that is friendlier to entrepreneurship and to the growth of small/medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) which has proved to be the pivot of growth in any nation.

   Entrepreneurship education has been discovered to be the pivot of most developed economies right from childhood to tertiary level. In the developed world, where kid/teen entrepreneurship is encouraged, success in life depends more on the skills that an individual possesses. Children are encouraged to pursue their passions at an early age. Even in schools, the development of children is of keen interest to teachers who discover their talents and encourage them to pursue and develop such talents. Today, musicians, artisans and footballers and the likes are some of the highest revenue earners in those countries.

   Entrepreneurship education is by all means, a vital, crucial and commanding necessity for the social change that this nation earnestly needs; an endearing transformation in the direction of creating a prosperous, healthy and peaceful society. To realise this objective, our country needs to review its antecedents and with determination, muster strength to effect a revolution which begins with a determination to grow and build a new generation of Nigerian graduates thirsty for personal development, determined to earn themselves dignified and creditable livelihood, becoming employers and career entrepreneurs; thereby bringing the desired new lease and a decisive change to Nigeria.

  During the industrial age, the demand for employees grew. In response the government took over the task of mass education and adopted the Prussian system, upon which most Western school systems in the world are today placed. When you research the philosophy behind Prussian education you will find that the stated purpose was to produce soldiers and employees, people who would follow orders and do as they were told. Prussian system of education was a great system for mass production of employees. It was just a matter of training.

   Unfortunately, since independence, leaders, policy makers, educational and national planners have not significantly refocused our curriculum to produce a manpower that meets the country’s needs. Glaring examples of countries that shared the same colonial experience with Nigeria but have had their economies revolutionised include Malaysia and India. The consequence of lack of proper planning on the government’s side is the production of highly skilled, well-educated tertiary institution graduates who have no jobs even five to 10 years after leaving school.    The problem is not only in the fact that the absorptive capacity of the economy is not growing as fast as the country is producing graduates. But there is also a disconnection between the skill gaps in the country and the endowments available. Today, we have thousands of graduates chasing very few jobs. More disturbing is that the quality and content of their training is non-responsive to national requirements.

   People are trainable; they can be trained to either be employees or entrepreneurs. The reason there are more employees than entrepreneurs is simply because our schools train young people to become employees. That is why so many parents say to their children: go to school, so you can get a good job. I have yet to hear any parent say, go to school to become an entrepreneur.

   It is against this background that entrepreneurship education fills the missing gaps in our educational system that hitherto produced job seekers instead of prospective employers. The unemployment, and by extension, the poverty level within the country are consequences of the nation’s faulty planning. There is not only a need to bring out the latent entrepreneurial talents in our citizens of all ages, there is also the urgent need to arrest the ever growing population of unemployed and unemployable graduates by filling–in the missing link in their educational careers.

   Businesses are created by entrepreneurs: Men and women who dream up ideas for wealth creation and then translate those ideas into realities, taking calculated risks. When they dream and envision, they undertake the rigorous resources (human, material and financial) to create the machinery (Enterprise) to realise their dreams. Usually, they make investments to build the enterprise and then use the enterprise to deliver products and services that will fill existing needs, solve outstanding problems or create the desired value and in the process create wealth for themselves, their stakeholders including the community and the nation.

   Our country is in need of virtually everything. Almost everything is in short supply. We are a nation of primary producers, a country crying for value addition and value creation. We export crude oil and import refined petroleum; export raw timber and import furniture; export hides and skin and import shoes and bags; rubber and import tyres. Water, water everywhere and yet there is none to drink! Refuse and garbage everywhere and we cannot generate electricity nor harness compost manure, sunshine all year round and we cannot harness electricity, natural gas everywhere and we import fertilizers. Are entrepreneurs born or made? I agree that there are some people who seem to have a natural proclivity to run with business ideas and seem to always want to start a new endeavour. I also know that certain groups of people seem to exhibit entrepreneurial tendencies more than other groups. The lgbos of South Eastern Nigeria, for example, are noted as more entrepreneurial than most. The ljebus, the Ijeshas and the Ogbomosho as well as Ejigbo people of the South-West and the Kano people of Northern Nigeria seem to share this ’group’ entrepreneurial spirit. But I do not think this is genetically derived, rather these tendencies may have evolved over time as a reaction from socio-economic circumstances and other cultural traits passed from generation to generation.

   I remember attending an after-school graduate development programme sponsored by SAMSUNG and AGDC. The programme was conceptualised by Mrs. Ibukun Awosika who is also a pastor and I must confess that after completion of the programme I discovered that I lack the entrepreneurial skills necessary to work for some of the high profile corporate firms. I got several invitations for interview after completion of the programme but I did not honour them. This is not unconnected with the fact that no graduate will go through the SAMSUNG/AGDC programme and still want to work for people. The question I asked myself was why was acquisition of entrepreneurial skills not introduced into our school curriculum?  Permit me to say that the present crops of graduates are knowledgeable in their own fields but lack the entrepreneurial wherewithal to translate such knowledge to financial gains. This country is so crazy about educational qualifications that the present generations of graduates are nothing but certificated illiterates. The emergence of entrepreneurial minds capable of creating, growing and leading innovative and productive organisations in line with modern thinking is a critical and urgent challenge for national development in our beleaguered economy.

   There is the need for university administrators to conduct regular reviews of their entrepreneurship courses to make graduates imbibe the spirit of enterprise. Universities should not only focus on the theoretical aspect of entrepreneurship but should reach out to their alumni associations with a view to attracting successful entrepreneurs in their rank and file to take the students through the practical aspects of becoming successful entrepreneurs. Universities should prepare students for the world of market. Teaching the theoretical foundation of becoming successful entrepreneurs in our universities is good and very important. It will help the students to understand the concept being taught. But becoming successful as an entrepreneur is more than theory and that is why we need to look into the methodology being used in our universities. Rather than just teaching theory, successful alumni of various universities should be engaged and allowed to take the students practical aspect of imbibing the entrepreneurial mindset. And that is why there is the need for constantly nurturing engagement between the private sector and our universities.

   Nigerian graduates must be made to seek opportunities for entrepreneurship as first choice, and to fall back to seeking employment as second choice, perhaps when the conditions for the entrepreneurial take off is not quite right, rather than the current situation where every graduate leaves school seeking employment. With this changed mindset, they would carry the entrepreneurial disposition into employment, becoming entrepreneurs in whichever company or institution they may find themselves. The benefits to such companies and ultimately to the economy will, indeed, be enormous if both business owners and their workers share the entrepreneurial ethos. Even government or public sector companies or institutions will experience a new level of performance and service delivery when they have workers who have imbibed the entrepreneurial paradigm. Workers who understand the time value of money and who have a working knowledge of the profit and loss statement; workers who understand goal-getting and budgeting. Workers with the mindset of entrepreneurs and wealth creators. We must lead our young people to take pride in what they can do for their people rather than what is in it for me or what I can get from the nation.

• Oni is a PhD student of University of Lagos.

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