Diagnosing the workforce deficit
Every now and then, one observes the serious problems Gambians encounter due to the fact that many areas of skilled labour are dominated by foreign nationals. [Not that I have anything against foreigners but as the Wolofs say ‘Suma boppamala genal du bagne naala] From the teaching field to fishing, tailoring, to bakeries and many others. It is observable that this has serious repercussions on our fledgling economy.
Usually, shortly after Koriteh (Muslim festival of Eid after Ramadan) or Tobaski (the Eid of Sacrifices) our markets are almost always empty of fish. The cost of fish increases and becomes hardly affordable where it is available. It is obvious that the industry is dominated by foreign nationals who would have gone to their various countries to celebrate the occasion.
The strike of bakers a few days ago was largely blamed on the fact that almost all those engaged in this economic activity are foreigners though there were other factors involved. Suffice it to say that the general perception was that they boycotted the market because they aren’t citizens.
In the teaching field (this is where I work as a teacher) mostly it is Nigerians, Sierra Leoneans, Ghanaians and others who man our classrooms. In the past decade or so however, more Gambians have taken up teaching as a profession. This is good and should be encouraged.
We see other forms of skilled work, like trade and business, also being dominated by foreign nationals. Many Gambians loathe the idea of engaging in business and other forms of labour and as a result, the country is losing a lot of money because of these problems.
The reason for all these problems is the education system. We focus entirely on academic excellence and pay less attention to vocational training. We seem to forget – or ignore – the fact that perhaps only about twenty percent of students will be able to excel in academic fields [research is needed in this area].
As a result, many of the about-eighty percent of students end up dropping out of school or completing with certificates without having the necessary skills to be effective in public services.
This is also partly responsible for the huge number of youths struggling to go to Europe through illegal migration dubbed ‘back way to Europe’. Many blame the poor economy for this but I think it has more to do with skills and the ability to create jobs for themselves than just the declining economy.
There are a few instances of trying to teach young people skills like at the GTTI and other government initiatives to give skills to youths but it is far from enough. We need more trained skilled workers in the country.
The education system needs to change to take this gap into account so that we will produce more job creators than job seekers. The school system needs to focus more on technical skills rather than academics alone.
As far as I know, there are only one or two schools (senior) that offer technical subjects which is far from enough. The purpose of education is to equip learners with the necessary skills to have a dignified and comfortable life.
This is what will solve the many problems highlighted above. Certainly, it will not be easy but it is absolutely necessary and with a focused and committed effort, we can turn the tide. We need to engage the University of the Gambia on research in many areas so that we come up with an education system which is based on empirical facts.