Most tertiary courses are good value for students. To some extent, most of these courses are relevant to the needs of the workplace and the nation, writes Mmegi correspondent GRAHAME MCLEOD*
TONOTA: This is especially true of the STEM subjects – Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. For this reason, each year both University of Botswana (UB) and the Botswana International University of Science and Technology (BIUST) churn out well-trained graduates who should be able to land good jobs – as geologists; mining, chemical, geological and electrical engineers; computer software engineers; statisticians… Such courses of study will provide the skilled manpower required in our mineral-driven economy.
Also, if the call to diversify our economy is heeded, and the country begins to industrialise, then such graduates will also find jobs in manufacturing industries. And other institutions also offer a wide variety of other courses in accountancy, law, education, business, and finance… Such courses will ensure that locally-run businesses will operate profitably and will stand the test of time!
Many institutions now offer courses in hospitality and tourism, so vital in our blossoming tourism industry, which is Botswana’s second most important income earner, after mining. And with the passing of the present COVID-19 pandemic, there is likely to be a sharp surge in tourism in the country. Also, there is much scope for increased citizen empowerment in tourism given the fact that tourism, to a large extent, has been run by foreigners. So, there is clearly much potential for graduates in this industry; now graduates will be able to assume management positions in safari companies and lodges rather than find work as guides and drivers. But such graduates should also aspire to actually own and set up lodges, especially in the Okavango Delta and the Chobe area.
And they should also be bold enough to get out of their comfort zone and venture into tourism in other areas of the country, which are, at present, largely off the tourist trail. In the Daily News of April 27, 2021, Valentino Gruener, who runs a game farm near Tsabong, said that the Kgalagadi is a great tourism destination. And he has a point there; he continued by saying that, unlike the Okavango Delta and Chobe where hordes of tourists are to be seen, the Kgalagadi offers tourists a great experience of truly being in the real, untamed wilderness. And who can disagree with that? However, there are a few issues of concern. There needs to be a change in emphasis on what courses students should follow. In the past, there was once a high demand for graduates who had pursued courses in computer skills. Since then countless institutions offer such courses and they are generally well patronised. However, there are now too many such graduates today who roam the streets unemployed. So, tertiary education needs to move with the times! As noted earlier, BIUST runs courses in STEM subjects that are very relevant to the needs of the workplace and the economy. So, school leavers should seriously consider enrolling in such courses. And the days when the government is guaranteed to dish out jobs to graduates is now over; graduates need to realise that it may be up to them to work for themselves and to set up their own businesses using their qualifications. If they do this, we will then see fewer graduates roaming the streets waiting for someone to take them on.
And graduates from all disciplines should also be prepared to move out of their comfort zone in order to find work related to their training and not to join the hordes of unemployed. If you have been brought up in Rakops, you might think that it is the only place where you can work since the very thought of working elsewhere and leaving your parents and siblings would not be worth thinking about. But Rakops is a small village and employment opportunities are very limited.
So, with this mindset, you will likely find yourself with no job. But if you were prepared to live in Gaborone, then the chances of finding employment there would be much greater. Put simply, these days, graduates must move to where the jobs are; if you are an accountant, don’t expect jobs for accountants to suddenly appear in Rakops just because you have a degree in Accounting! And if you love life in Gaborone and have a BSc degree in Agriculture, be prepared to live in a rural area as a farm manager; after all, there are no farms in the big city! Moving to a new place also exposes one to new cultures, food, languages and others.
Now the reader might think, “But you have never been in our situation so, how can you tell us to get out of our comfort zones?” But I have been in your shoes before! And more than once! I once graduated with a BSc degree in Geology from the University of Wales in the UK. After my graduation, I applied to several UK-based companies for employment as a geologist in the UK. But despite my efforts, I was unsuccessful. Therefore, I decided to apply for overseas jobs where I would have a much greater chance of success. And I did not have to wait long before I landed a job! One company I applied to was the Anglo American Corporation who called me for an interview at their offices in London.
They informed me that there were vacancies for exploration geologists with the BCL Mine in Botswana. And a few days later I received a telegramme offering me a job there! At first, I wondered as to whether I could survive being away from home for some years. And where was this Botswana? This was not Kenya or Egypt! I knew that it was in southern Africa but the only pictures that I had seen of the place were images of cattle on Bechuanaland Protectorate postage stamps, and that was only because stamp collecting was a hobby of mine. But I took the bull by the horns and quickly accepted and within a month I arrived in Francistown. So, I was able to utilise my training and so did not end up unemployed. And I did not blame the course that I had followed; it was relevant to the needs of Botswana’s mining industry.
Later, I undertook a teacher training course at the University of London in the UK. After graduating, once again I desperately tried to find a teaching job in the UK. I applied to many schools but again was unsuccessful. So, once more, I was prepared to move out of my comfort zone and apply for jobs overseas. First, I applied for a post as a Geography teacher at a British school in Madrid, Spain. I attended an interview in London and a few days later a telegramme arrived offering me the post. Now, I had an interesting and unexpected problem! From being without work, I suddenly found myself having to choose between different job offers! This was because at the same time I had also applied for teaching posts at government secondary schools in Jamaica. I was offered posts at three different schools on the island. I finally chose one school where I was to teach Geography and Geology to ‘A’ Level. A few weeks later I was winging my way to the sunny Caribbean to the land of Bob Marley and the Wailers. And during my time there I was able to visit many Spanish-speaking countries in central and South America – a rich cultural experience!
Some tertiary institutions have also been criticised for offering courses that are too theoretical. Some people in recent years have criticised the Botswana University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (BUAN) by saying that their courses are too theoretical and, to some extent, I would agree. More practical hands-on training is also required. Now a BUAN graduate may later be employed as a farm manager. Part of his/her job will entail allocating duties to their workforce; for example, preparing 10 6mx2m plots for planting vegetables. But before they can give them this job, they first need to know how long it will take! And they can only do this if they have done the job themselves before! But if they do not know for sure, and give their workers too much, or too little, time to finish the job then this may lead to low productivity and reduced income and profits for the farm owner. And also, they might soon find themselves without a job! I taught Agriculture at Tonota College of Education (TCE) for 21 years. During that time, I taught courses in crop production and I instilled into my students a culture of doing practical work. And, unlike BUAN, agriculture is only one of the many courses that a student might follow at TCE. Some students whom I taught at TCE have gone on to BUAN to study for a BSc degree in agriculture. But some of them complained saying that they did much less practical work at BUAN than they did at TCE. I believe that BUAN graduates who later become farmers or farm managers should have carried out plenty of practical work whilst at BUAN. It’s like being a football club manager who has already played football before and so is better able to run training sessions, come up with a game plan and choose the most suitable players for the next match.
And practical work at tertiary level complements what is taught in class. Whilst at TCE, I also taught soil science; to me, it was not enough to tell students which soil types are most suitable for growing crops – they also had to find out themselves by sweating in the college garden! For this reason, we took the college five-tonne truck to collect soil samples from as far away as Maun. We then dug long trenches in the college garden and filled them in with the different soils we had collected. Students then planted crops of maize and Swiss chard with the aim of, not just simply growing food, but finding out which soil type produced the highest yields. And this, they will never forget!
*Grahame McLeod* is a retired educationist.