Monday, May 17, 2021

There can be no employment for all youth by 2030 without indigenous education for all

Dumelang Batswana, I am proud to have committed Botswana to be part of Generation Unlimited (GenUnlimited), a new global partnership whose aim is to ensure that all young people are educated, trained, and employed by 2030,” wrote President Mokgweetsi Masisi a fortnight ago in a message posted to his Facebook page. “Generation Unlimited brings together partners from government, multilateral organizations, civil society, the private sector, and young people from around the world. My Government’s commitment is based on the determination to build a knowledge-based economy.”

Launched at the 73rd United Nations General Assembly in September 2018, Generation Unlimited is intended “to operationalize the vision and priorities of the UN Youth Strategy—in particular, youth engagement, participation and advocacy; supporting young people’s greater access to quality education and skills development; and economic empowerment through decent jobs.”

What Masisi expresses are very noble sentiments but what does his government consider to be “education” and do people who miss out on very important type of education qualify for employment? The official curriculum makes clear the fact that the government considers western education and nothing else, to be education. To be clear, western education is very important because if you can’t read and write, your chances of making it in life are severely limited. However, that in no way diminishes the importance of indigenous education in the workplace.

Masisi’s statement connects education and training with employment but the education system that he oversees as president doesn’t recognise the importance of indigenous knowledge in the workplace.

The version of civility education taught in schools imparts western values and never indigenous ones even at the most basic level. Learners leave school knowing English greeting forms in their entirety. On the other hand, it is assumed that they know indigenous greeting forms, which is not the case. One too many primary school pupils, especially those in urban areas, don’t know that a Setswana greeting always refers to the person being greeted: “Dumela Mma/Rra/Malome/Rakgadi/Morutabana.” Not only would some not know that, they respond with “Ee” (yes) to greeting even from adults. Where they require someone older than themselves to repeat what they said, some young people are likelier to make the nasalized “hmm?” than say “Rra?” or “Mma?” as indigenous social etiquette requires. The result is that some young people, who never received this education in school, at home or as part of their job training, routinely and nonchalantly say “hmm?” to elderly clients.

Increasingly nowadays and on account of lack of indigenous education, some young people don’t know the primacy of greetings in indigenous culture. Resultantly, they will either not greet clients or fail to return greetings.

In Setswana culture, it is considered extremely rude for a younger person to say “akere” (meaning “isn’t it …”) to someone older than them. However, “akere” is what you hear on an almost daily basis from the mouths of children speaking to clients much older than they are. By far the most tragic occurrence of “akere” is that casually used by senior government officials (including cabinet ministers) at public meetings attended by elderly people. Cross-generational use of “akere” has now been so normalized that even foreigners who make an attempt to speak Setswana, Zimbabweans especially, unwittingly use the offensive word. No school in Botswana teaches this standard of decorum and otherwise well-behaved people go through decades of schooling without ever learning that it is extremely rude to say “akere” in a cross-generational context. The Botswana Qualifications Authority and the Human Resources Development Council have no requirement that if one severely lacks indigenous culture etiquette, then they can’t be deemed job-ready. To boot, Business Botswana is not insisting on such requirement.

Still, Masisi wants to ensure that all young people are educated, trained, and employed by 2030. Do university graduates who don’t know proper greetings in Setswana or any other indigenous language, also qualify for such employment? Are graduates job-ready if they place no premium on the culture of greetings and are wont to use “akere” in an inappropriate cross-general context? Should a 20 year-old get to work in a restaurant when she uses “akere” in that context?

It is ironic that while there is grave concern about the level of youth unemployment, there is none such about the number of young people who lack very important indigenous knowledge that the workplace requires. It is more than likely that those who make hiring decisions are older people who know and expect compliance with basic indigenous etiquette. It is as likely that some young people have failed to secure jobs because they have displayed grossly acultural behaviour.

The government cannot do everything by itself and the current situation is such that there are education and training gaps within the broader society, that make it near impossible for every young person to be employed by 2030. There is indigenous education and training that is supposed to occur within the home environment, in terms of which children are taught and assigned chores on a continual basis. The home is also where the right work ethic is cultivated in young people. However, as more and more Batswana acculturate into a western identity, some see this home training as “child labour.” Housework that would be done by children in the house is now done by (mostly) Zimbabwean housemaids and the latter grow up knowing that there is someone else who can do household chores for them. Are such people job-ready?

That Zimbabwean housemaids dominate domestic work market attests to the fact that in their own home country, there is still indigenous education and training that occurs within the home. Zimbabweans have cornered this market and Batswana, some of whom have evidently never housework in their own houses, are finding it extremely to compete with them. These people are basically unemployable. They didn’t do too well with western education but acquisition of indigenous education would have made them useful members of society.

Indigenous education also does an excellent job of inculcating the right work ethic in the young. Some children still get up in the wee hours of the morning (and never after sunrise) to do house chores, under the very strict supervision of their parents or older relatives. Working diligently and getting to work on time becomes second nature to them in adult life. A child accustomed to getting up at 9 a.m. and even then, only to get a snack from the fridge, plonk down on the couch and watch something on TV will never have the same work ethic.

Clearly, there is need to recognise the importance of indigenous education and incorporate it into public life. Then again, it may not be a good idea to invest any hope in what Masisi said because he was merely making another hollow political promise and the UN is once more playing with words and figures.

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