I would begin by first congratulating the more than 5000 men and women who were last week decorated in robes amidst pump and pageantry, and awarded their first degrees at what was a colourful ceremony at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology. To the entire 2012/2013 academic year graduating batch of KNUST, I say “ayekoo.” Though times have been tough along what was a rough four year road, we always managed to dust ourselves off after every fall and picked ourselves up after every crash; constantly renewing our believe in the numerous opportunities that the future has the potential of offering. We made it out of the fire folks: to old friends, new friends and great escapes, we say cheers to the future. Congratulations once again.
But the history of our dear motherland has taught us over the years that every so often, the glamour that characterizes occasions such as what was witnessed at KNUST last week, usually gives way to desolation and despondency a few years down the line, as the struggle to find a decent source of income tears down folks. Life is all fun when you are still young, but days like this are the bridges which connect that life of fun and the moments when responsibility beckons. Responsibilities which we owe not only to ourselves and the unborn generations we would nurture in the future to come, but also to those family members and friends who have invested all their life savings in us just to give us a degree.
Graduating from the university is a moment of great promise; when every young person is handed his right to be excited about the possibilities of what the future holds, and the license to be optimistic, and confident about tomorrow. It is a moment that every young person looks forward to, hoping that one year down the line post the period of National Service, he or she will lay hands on a dependable source of income that would help you commence the process of paying back the investments others have made in your education. At this moment, every level headed young person looks forward to being able to ‘gently without hesitation’, sign off the Senior High School admission cost of that younger sibling; to be able to pay off the medical bills of that old grandmother whose time on earth is fast running out without blinking an eye; to be able to give a little more for that on-going new auditorium construction project in your church; and to be able to take that admirable young girl on a date, not to that drinking spot behind your house, but to one of those plush “five star restaurants”. This is certainly not too much for a young graduate to ask, nor is it an unnecessary luxurious want. It’s in fact what they deserve.
But startlingly statistics I chanced upon while researching for this article showed only 4 to 5 out of every 10 graduates is likely to get employment soon after the period of national service. A 2011 research by the Institute of Statistical, Social and Economic Research of the University of Ghana showed that about 50 percent of graduates from the 2011 graduating year may wait up to 2014 without finding jobs. Another research paper I came across also estimated graduate unemployment levels in Ghana to be over 44% of graduate school leavers. The other more than 50 percent of graduates remain unemployed for years to come, and some, forever. This is just about unemployment. You can imagine how much more dire the situation is when we speak of underemployment.
These statistics are not mere rhetorics. We see the evidence of its manifestation all around us. I see it every day in that cousin who has been out of university since 2011 and is still sleeping and waking up every morning under mummy’s roof, counting on her for breakfast, lunch, and supper. I see it in that lanky guy who lives two houses from my residence at Amakom in Kumasi, as he walks past my house with his file in his armpit on a daily job hunt that has been going on since he completed National Service last year. I see this in that church member, whose mother uses other colleagues of ours to chastise when we meet every Sunday, because two years after graduating with a degree from a renowned private university, he spends Monday to Friday helping her arrange her wares at the Kaneshie Market in Accra. These statistics above should certainly lead every right thinking person to question the very essence of pursuing a degree.
But what can these young people do? Except to search a little harder for that first job, write and circulate more application letters for employment, cook up more unrealistic business ideas that remain everlastingly in the diary and hardly get off the ground, and may be spend a little more time praying that tomorrow would be a better day.
The government can tell that young graduate that this problem of graduate unemployment is his or her own fault, for failing to think outside the box. The government can tell Ghanaians that it’s not their business to be in business – building industries to absorb all fresh graduates. But what the government of Ghana cannot tell the good people of this country is that it has succeeded in constructing a university system that makes the pursuit of a four year degree a worthwhile. With students sitting in classes of a size of more than 500, being tutored and nurtured in lecture halls where public address systems are poor; with students sleeping in fours in rooms meant for singles; with students undertaking research in laboratories that were built before the coming into being of the fourth Republic and have seen little or no renovation nor upgrading since; with students being taught with academic syllabus and curricula that hardly see regular reviews; with lecturers striking for about three weeks every single academic year; what else did we expect? Our educational system is fraught with deep gaping holes that various stakeholders have deliberately, as well as inadvertently deepened over the years with their actions and in-actions.
There is the idea that is usually floated that the problem of graduate unemployment stems from the lack of adequate entrepreneurship training for the students who pass through the educational system since government cannot employ every graduate, which I agree with perfectly. But I feel that is just a minute angle to the challenge we face. The bigger picture has to do with the general failure of the educational system to holistically develop those who go through it, into well thinking and well positioned “homo sapiens” to be able to face the future. It is that kind of human being who would be able to think on his or her feet, meander his or her way through even choked environments, and shape for him or herself a future that is not driven by government policy but by individual initiative.
After going through the university system for four years, I think it’s about time the powers that be set up a Commission to review the country’s educational system, with a pre establishment pledge by government to implement to the fullest the full recommendation of the commission. The commission should look into the structure of the educational curricula, the nature of infrastructure, the quality of teaching and learning, among others, and make recommendations on how they should be modified to look like the kind of good old days I have heard my professors speak of when they were our age. We are not calling for a return to the days when government fed university students four times a day, with them sleeping in rooms in singles, learning in class sizes which were in single numbers, and when employers attended graduation ceremonies to recruit students on the spot for jobs. But to create the kind of atmosphere that is conducive enough to bring out the best in the students who pass through the university system.
The inspiration to pursue a degree must go beyond just the honour of being an alumnus of this or that university. The hard work invested in pursuing a degree must pay off, and responsibility that university education behooves on students must be rewarded when it’s all done. There need to be some guarantee that if you give the pursuit of education your all, you should be able to find a decent job, make enough money to be able to raise a family comfortably, build a home, and begin planning for a good pension as soon as possible. And that depends on the commitment of stakeholders particularly government to restructure University and tertiary education as a whole to meet the demands of this new age. May God bless our homeland Ghana, and may God bless all the folks who have chosen the path education to a brighter future.
Joseph Opoku Gakpo is a Journalist and Associate to Agro Mindset.