St Lawrence University, Cameroon
What Must We Do To Be Saved?: Entrepreneurship in Cameroon Universities and the Crisis of Unemployed Professionals by Dr. Oscar C. Labang
The recent move towards the professionalization of higher education in Cameroon is creating an entirely new challenge which the government will again have to confront. The shifting paradigm has been to produce students who are professionally prepared for the job market. But the question is: which job market? I do not see any foreseeable future in which the government or the current private sector in Cameroon can absorb a greater percentage of students graduating with HNDs and professional BAs every year. What this suggests is that the nation is again heading towards a more severe crisis of unemployment. But unlike in the past where it was assumed that those who were unemployed were academically trained, the new wave of unemployed youth will be professionally trained. We need a system of higher education that can reverse the trend shown on the picture; a system in which more individuals seek to be entrepreneurs instead of employees.
What must we do to be saved?
The answer to what needs to be done to save the nation from this impending doom has been politicized into a philosophy of harmonization which in reality is, a worse, a form of assimilation of the Anglo-Saxon system and, at best, a homogenization of higher education. Interestingly, the higher education system has not even successfully embraced the ideas of LMD and professionalization; yet it is attempting to thread to new grounds. Harmonization will not solve the urgent problem of unemployed professionals. Rather, focus on highly improved entrepreneurial education which is part of the professionalization of higher education could yield better fruits.
From the multitude of definitions of entrepreneurship, I particularly like the one offered by Shane and Venkataraman. According to them, entrepreneurship is a study of sources of opportunities, the processes of discovery, evaluation and exploitation of opportunities and those individuals who discover, evaluate and exploit them. However, each time I think of an entrepreneur, I preferably want to break the word down to smaller linguistic units for better understanding. So I see an entrepreneur as:
>> A person who enters (entre) and takes over (preneur): the essence of starting a business is not just to have one but to a major force in your business sector.
>> A person who engages and takes risks:- the individual should be able to take an entrepreneurial bet with confidence and determination to influence or change the way things are done.
>> A person who is capable of disrupting, creating and/or reorganizing resources:- to enter and take over requires the ability to reorganize existing resources for more effective use or better profit.
>> A person who discovers previously unnoticed profit opportunities:- observing the current system and taking advantage of areas that have not been exploited is strategic.
To produce the kind of students who fit in to one or more of the categories outlined above, universities in an emerging economy like Cameroon's have to make some fundamental changes. What is the essence of professional or entrepreneurial education if we continue to produce students that look up to the government for jobs. The first two things are embodied in my view of entrepreneurship which states that if we want to produce entrepreneurs, we must stop teaching Cameroonian students about the world as it is and start teaching them about the world as it could be.
1- Teach students about the world as it is
When we teach students about our world as it, we make them to be complacent or to engage in servile conformism as the Vice Chancellor of St Lawrence University, Emeritus Professor Kashim Ibrahim Tala, would say. This means that students are trained to be satisfied with things the way they are. Have you ever been insulted by your classmates because you asked too many questions? Has a teacher ever hushed you down or ignored you or someone you know because you/they asked too many questions? Has a friend or foe ever called you “over sabbi” (know too much) or “seek no” (seeking notice)? Your classmate, your friend or foe, and such teachers want you to be satisfied with the way things are. They do not want you to break the code, or question the order of things, and that is what is wrong with our culture and educational system. Until we start training students to be dissatisfied with what they see, to questions the basis on which everything is build, or not to accept that things are best as they are now, we will never move beyond the current problems we face as a nation. The inclusion of one course on Entrepreneurship in the curriculum is not sufficient grounds. Higher education institutions designed to train professionals have simply ended at the level of telling students of how business works instead of telling them how the business world could/should operate. We can't teach students about how the world is and then expect them to be risk takers. They have not been equipped with the relevant tools for risk taking.
We need to re-evaluate the type of Professionals we graduate under such a stereotypical system. Every year higher education institutions graduate thousands of HND holders and pump them into an economy that is seemingly inelastic and incapable of absorbing even a quarter of the graduates. Because our economy is apparently unable to incorporate the new generation of graduates, the only way of creating elasticity is to teach the students how to change the economy through job creation. In the current system, a degree in Business is just as good as a degree in a traditional academic discipline because both students have been taught about the world as it is. The only real difference is that the student with a degree in Business has been brainwashed into thinking that his degree is a professional one and so has more value than that of the student of History, Biology or English.
Is it relevant for Cameroonian students to understand the world as it is? Absolutely yes! But when teaching ends here, then the mind becomes contented and the imagination no longer yearns for anything beyond or better. Thus if we must be saved, we have to teach students about the world of possibilities and opportunities.
2- Teach students about the world as it COULD BE.
When we teach students about our world as it could be, we create a thirst for more in their imagination and thus expel the need to think that all is already well, perfect or accomplished. When we teach students about our world as it could, we create a yearning for a more perfectible state of living and existence. When we teach students about our world as it could be, we feel their minds with hypotheses and set them on a path in search of answers. When we teach students about our world as it could, we create in them the zeal of thinking about possibilities and opportunities. When we teach students about our world as it could be, we help them to find fault with the current system because they are anxious to fix, improve it or change it.
At St. Lawrence University, Ndop we are working on a model of how it will be possible to teach students about the world as it could be. Generally, my colleagues and I agree that when we teach students about our world as it could be, the following needs to happen:
-- The teacher and the student become risk takers. The teacher stops professing knowledge and becomes a partner in the adventure of finding new ways of doing old things.
-- The breaking of rules is allowed as part of the knowledge creation. The teacher’s job is to teach the rules in a way that students can break them.
-- The student is allowed to test even the most stupid hypotheses without the fear of being shot down, the shame of failure or the fear of risk. You never know where or how the new breakthrough will come about.
-- Practical knowledge is valued more than theoretical knowledge; i.e. the actual testing of how knowledge works is preferred to listening to lectures of how knowledge works.
-- The teacher is a resource person and guide instead of an all-knowing master. The teacher uses experience to point out problems in the community and students use creative energy to propose/provide solutions.
-- The hierarchical classroom collapses and a democratic classroom comes into play. The teacher remains the teacher but his/her role is that of challenging the student’s ideas when they depart from his/hers and when they align with his/hers. The teacher should be in search of reasonable, logical and intellectually grounded conclusions.
According to Hytti, entrepreneurship education has three components: learn to understand entrepreneurship, learn to become entrepreneurial and learn to become an entrepreneur. While most Cameroonian higher education institutions focus on the first component, in the St Lawrence University’s model that we are developing, we are placing equal emphasis on all three components. When students are taught about the world as it is, they are trained to understand entrepreneurship. But when students are taught about the world as it could be, they are prepared to take the entrepreneurial bet and become entrepreneurs. We are developing a project based learning model which will allow students to learn through entrepreneurship rather than learn about entrepreneurship. This model will be presented and discussed during the Faculty Development Workshop in early September.
To be continued>>>>>>>>
 Shane, S. & Venkataraman, S. 2000. “The Promise of Entrepreneurship as a Field of Research”. Academy of Management Review. Vol. 25, No. 1, p.217-226.
 Hytti, U. (ed.) 2002. “State-of-Art of Enterprise Education in Europe – Results from the Entredu project”. Written jointly with Kuopusjärvi, P., Vento-Vierikko, I., Schneeberger, A., Stampfl, C., O’Gorman, C., Hulaas, H., Cotton, J. & Hermann, K. Published in the Entredu –project, Leonardo da Vinci –programme of the European Commission: Turku, Finland.
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