A response to “Skills for Employability in Africa and Asia”
We need to identify ways to improve the employability skills of secondary school graduates, without “school becoming too technical. This would help the ones who want to enter the workforce immediately, while still allowing a possibility of university education for the others.”In the article, the authors suggest that although “extra-curricular activities can be very important for acquiring non-cognitive skills,” they are “relatively downplayed by teachers, especially in Africa.” The question then becomes: how do we promote the importance of extra-curricular activities in African schools so as to increase implementation? To answer this question, we must first acknowledge the need for a concerted approach to target students and their families, as well as employers and school officials. Rebranding extra-curricular activities by highlighting the importance to all stakeholders would permit their buy-in and participation.
Having studied at both a local Rwandan school and an international school in Germany, I can attest to the difference extra-curricular activities brought to my life. At my Rwandan primary school, we would often skip electives (physical education and art) to prepare for national exams by studying our core subjects (math, science, and French). Extra-curricular activities were not important. The only available extra-curricular activities were team sports in secondary schools. This allowed us to focus on academic work and increased our cognitive skills, but left no room for the development of our non-cognitive skills. Contrastingly, the international school I attended in Germany placed great emphasis on club involvement and volunteering. Looking back, it is the time spent outside the classroom that taught me how to be a social citizen.
This is where the re-branding extracurricular activities could enter into a youth employment mission. Parents and students would be the easiest stakeholder groups to convince, as the importance of such activities is readily perceivable. Participating in extra-curricular activities provides an opportunity to be active, build strong friendships, and contribute to the community. Some students in Rwanda took initiatives and started peer programs like volunteering in orphanages. With more support, these initiatives could be improved and expanded to a larger scope.
Employers would also be an easy target group, thanks to their ability to see the long-term organizational benefits of non-cognitive skills in the workplace. My older cousins, who had just graduated high school and university, often commented on how hard it was to find a job without previous work experience. We would need to prove to employers that extra-curricular activities allow the youth to acquire the “teamwork, communication, and problem-solving (skills)” needed in the workplace. Employers could be asked to participate in these activities by offering space, mentorship, and mini-internships. As an incentive, they would be able to identify the talent that they want from graduating students.
School officials, especially the teachers, would be the hardest stakeholder group to convince, as they would be responsible for the implementation. Implementing extra-curricular activities would mean instilling a change in cultural mindsets, and this is a long process. However, we could use examples and share local or international success stories like the case of India, to encourage adoption.
The article concludes that there is a large gap between the training students receive in school and the employers’ workplace needs. Furthermore, in developing countries, “non-cognitive skills (are) crucial for informal economies.” Therefore, promoting extra-curricular activities could help to develop non-cognitive skills and bridge this gap.