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Integrating Entrepreneurship into Teaching, Learning and Research

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Integrating Entrepreneurship into Teaching, Learning and Research

Growing up in a rural area of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, I remember a cousin of mine finishing school with a matric qualification. The young man was very excited and showed off his matric achievements, parading in the community, cheered by peers and members of the village.

After the celebrations, an uncle of ours asked the young man: ‘My son, I see you are excited and the community is cheering you – so now you have a matric, can you make a needle so we can fix our torn clothes? My cousin replied: ‘I can’t.’ The man asked again: ‘Can you then at least make soap to wash our clothes?’ The youngster replied: ‘No.’

Our uncle then asked him: ‘What do you know then?’ The youngster replied: ‘I can speak French fluently.’ The man was disappointed and responded: ‘During 12 years of schooling we managed to get you into a very good school for which I helped pay a lot of money. I also took good care of the family and the community and I have big farms and some cows.

‘But now after 12 years the only thing you can bring to the community is French.’ He was very disappointed, and expressed his unhappiness with the teachers and the education system.

Since then my uncle’s voice has resonated in my mind and motivated me to reflect on our education system and what it offers society and students. I began thinking about how teaching, learning and research can become the starting point for change in society. With the benefit of having been a teacher for the last 20 years at primary and high schools and a lecturer at university, I reached the conclusion that we need to find ways to bridge the gap between education and societal challenges and define the future careers of students.

For several years I have considered developing a model that can assist integrating entrepreneurship into learning, teaching and research. Two basic questions I attempted to answer were: 1) What in a world faced with multifaceted challenges including different forms of violence, climate change, health challenges, and unemployment among others can teaching, learning and research do to bridge the gap between education and the needs of society? and: 2) If teaching, learning and research are to be the starting points in bridging the gap, what type of methodology should be used to ensure behaviour and attitude change and to what extent, will that methodology be compatible with the culture of teaching, learning and research?

My answer to the first question was that if we are to address societal challenges, we need to change the narrative around social challenge being a problem rather an opportunity for change in society. This means we need to begin reflecting on challenges and devising ways to transform them into opportunities. Secondly, reflecting on how this can be incorporated into our teaching learning and research, I came to the realisation that the emphasis of teaching, learning and research must be placed on dimensions of applicability and action, and the possibility of transferability to various situations and contexts. This means incorporating skills, attitudes and other individuals’ aptitudes that provide for competent professional practice that derive from teaching, learning and research. I realised that our curriculum and teaching pedagogy need to go beyond theory and focus more on practicability. Here, I mean beginning deconstructing theories and making them more relevant to societal challenges. To achieve this, teaching, learning and research need to be more student and community centred. Students need to spend more time in communities, understanding social issues, constructing theories as part of learning and devising strategies to deal with social challenges.

Looking at entrepreneurship, it is about behavioural change and seeing challenges from different perspectives while being able to identify opportunities in the challenges.

I have noticed students running small businesses on campus, selling and buying different consumable products and that led me to think that it is possible to begin selling and buying societal challenges beginning from campuses where students can begin offering study related services to the University community and the broader society. It is a matter of identifying societal deficits and building on teaching, learning and research and converting these into opportunities.

To test my assumptions, I made attempts to incorporate entrepreneurship into teaching, learning and research and realised that it is possible – it can be done!

Through teaching, learning and research, I initiated a number of community projects, which I think, if given enough attention, can result in bridging the gap between education and societal challenges and create job opportunities for our young graduates.

*Professor Joseph Rudigi Rukema is an Associate Professor at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in the School of Social Sciences, Sociology. He is the author of 86 publications, graduated 11 PhDs, 30 master’s and 34 honours students. He is a research Fellow of the University of South Africa and serves on various board of directors’ committees. He delivered lectures as a visiting professor at 11 universities in Africa, India and in the United States of America, featured among the Top 30 researchers of the University of KwaZulu-Natal, organised national and international conferences and delivered keynote speeches, and has initiated numerous community projects.