Developing countries always seem to need more schools. Primary schools, secondary schools, trade schools, universities, you name it. With so much attention paid to this area, plenty of debates ensue about the best teaching models, the role of technology, fee-based vs free education, what languages should be taught, and so on. Think about all the great ideas that have resulted from the combination of resources and debate.
However, take a look at the discussion around job creation after school in third-world countries. Hear much? The conversation isn’t nearly as loud. But the opportunity for jobs once school is over is a component just as important as the rest of the equation. If much of a local economy is based on sustenance farming, the resale of cheap imports or second-hand goods, or other low- or no-income producing activities, what types of jobs are even available? Certainly not many that would require a great deal of academic study. This isn’t just a post-university issue; people with with any level of education face this challenge in the developing world.
How much schooling does making gravel require?
To balance the equation, equal attention needs to be paid to fostering local job creation that improves and sustains the local economy. Yes, grads in Haiti can sometimes find decent employment, but often it requires moving to the United States or working for a local NGO. Yet neither of these solutions provide local, sustainable, economic growth and opportunity.
Why so much focus on the education aspect? We often look at the world through our own context. In the United States, for example, we can focus on education in and of itself, because historically, jobs have been available for the educated, and the benefits of obtaining education generally outweigh the costs of obtaining it. However, what’s the point of going to school if few opportunities await you afterwards? In places like Haiti, that’s an very relevant question.
I don’t have an easy solution for this dilemma, but I think that a focus on entrepreneurship in primary and secondary school could go a long way to help. In a culture that is taught to rely on handouts, the notion of developing a new business is novel and would require a very intentional effort to promote. Since entrepreneurship is an attitude more than a skill, encouraging children to look for ways to create value for themselves and for others using business skills can never take place too early, or be taught frequently enough.
In any case, if the resources and the debates related to opportunities after school matched those focused on education itself, then the resulting dialogue would likely lead us in the right direction.