The question of nature versus nurture — whether genetics or environment determines how we behave — has fixated scientists and philosophers for centuries. With no conclusive result either way, it promises to engage them for centuries to come.

With entrepreneurship taking a front seat thanks to the devastating effect the Covid-19 pandemic has had on the global economy, the same debate can be (and probably is being) had around entrepreneurship. Are entrepreneurs born? Or can they be bred?

Do Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Aliko Dangote, Patrice Motsepe, Jeff Bezos and Strive Masiyiwa have a singular propensity to recognise how to commercialise an innovation? Or can anyone be taught that skill?

Fortunately, I believe this is one debate that will not take centuries to resolve. It can be put to rest with greater ease. The reality is that there is no magic bullet to entrepreneurship, no inherent inclination — anyone can be an entrepreneur.

Entrepreneurship is a mindset. It is a way of thinking. It is a muscle that  just like a sporting skill  can be honed through practice and repetition. Sure, some people will have more natural talent, but — just like sporting prowess — hard work and determination are just as important as natural talent in the long run.

But it all stands and falls on education. And, unfortunately, this is where most of Sub-Saharan Africa fails. On this continent children and young adults are taught what to think and how to think, the emphasis is not on how to apply knowledge to approach a challenge differently. Critical thinking and problem solving, commonly known as higher order thinking skills, are generally underdeveloped.

The question of how to include entrepreneurship in curricula, or indeed how to reform curricula so that they meet the needs of the 21st century  where many jobs are expected to be lost to automation, and technological advancements will mean the creation of new jobs, suggesting some of the skills prized today may not necessarily be important in the future — has been the subject of discussion for many years.

In 2019, ABC News in Australia reported that New South Wales had implemented courses that incorporated entrepreneurial skills in the school curriculum. The Australian state was also undertaking a curriculum review that would set longer-term directions for curriculum change and identify gaps in teaching entrepreneurship. In that same year schools in Sydney were looking at implementing entrepreneurial education in their curricula.

Some private schools in Egypt have adopted and implemented “Journey of Entrepreneurship”, a Singaporean programme that teaches pupils entrepreneurial skills and helps them develop business skills such as negotiating, creativity and risk-taking, while in India, the Delhi government launched the Entrepreneurship Mindset Curriculum Framework for government schools in 2019. And I know from personal experience that countries such as Canada have for decades been teaching entrepreneurial skills in schools.

What have or are education departments in Africa doing to incorporate entrepreneurship, which I would argue is even more necessary on the continent than elsewhere, in the school curriculum? In 2020, it was reported that SA intended introducing entrepreneurship, robotics and coding in SA schools from this year as part of a new curriculum to ensure pupils are equipped for the demands of the 21st century.

Responding to the move, President Cyril Ramaphosa said: “I have long said that entrepreneurial skills should be included in the basic education curriculum. Far too often our citizens are risk-averse when it comes to entrepreneurship, preferring the so-called comfort of gainful employment to the perceived insecurity that comes with self-employment.”

The continent’s biggest economy, Nigeria, first introduced entrepreneurship into its curriculum around 10 years ago. Today, entrepreneurship has been introduced into the country’s educational system at all levels (primary, secondary and tertiary), but implementation is bedevilled by a teacher shortage, inadequate teaching materials and infrastructure, “wage-earner mentality”, big class sizes and ignorance by school administrators, according to the Katsina-Ala multidisciplinary journal.

Kenya first started phasing in entrepreneurship to its curriculum in 2007 and its efforts at curriculum reform led the World Economic Forum to rate its education system as the strongest on the African continent in 2017. In 2018 the World Bank ranked Kenya the top African country for education outcomes.

This entrepreneurship training and its dividend were very discernible in the Jua Olympics (a $2m venture capital fund I established in 2020 to support and empower Africa’s entrepreneurs) held in February, where the country with the highest recipients was Kenya, which took away almost 60% of the available funds.

These efforts are to be applauded as they are a step in the right direction. But when it comes to Southern Africa, Nigeria and most of the other African countries, much more needs to be done. Firstly, African parents need to confront their “wage-earner” or gainful employment mentality.

Instead of agitating for a “good job” in the criminal justice, financial, health, engineering or education system (or in any other 20th century industry), we need to prioritise entrepreneurship and prepare our children for a future where a regular wage is not guaranteed, where they will be their own boss, where resourcefulness and adaptability will be the name of the game, and where they will need to forge their own way.

Next, school administrators need to pay a lot more attention to teaching children critical thinking and problem-solving to ensure they are able to apply creative solutions — that is apply their imaginations to address a problem.

Private schools in SA (and other African countries) are already focused on critical thinking and higher order thinking skills, but they should be focusing more on entrepreneurship. Like they do for science, maths, English or any of the other traditional subjects, they should recognise entrepreneurial acumen and reward children who display it.

They should also be implementing a lot more entrepreneurial projects and offering courses that facilitate entrepreneurship (such as psychology, economics, personal finance, leadership, ethics and communications) to primary and high school pupils.

Finally, education officials need to prioritise entrepreneurship education as a matter of urgency. It is all well and good to include it in the education curriculum, but what kind of training are they providing teachers to ensure they can teach entrepreneurship? What kind of resources and support are they making available to schools? What kind of infrastructure are they putting in place? 

Without supporting schools and teachers, these efforts to reform the education curriculum to ensure it meets the needs of the 21st century will not yield the required dividend.

Entrepreneurship provides Africa with the opportunity to change the trajectory the continent has long been on. If we fail to grasp this opportunity we doom our future —  our children — to decades, possibly centuries, more penury.

• Molai is founder of TRT Investments, which has operations in Nigeria, SA, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique and Botswana.


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