Champion your own development

Young people can spend up to 56 days of their year just texting on their smartphone, writes Pedro Mzileni
Young people can spend up to 56 days of their year just texting on their smartphone, writes Pedro Mzileni
Image: 123RF / Mark Bowden

When you drive your child to school and their eyes are glued on their smartphone, what do you think they are busy with?

Are they texting their friends or playing video games, or are they learning a new skill? Don’t worry about the answer yet.

The one thing I want to tell you is that if they do that every hour you spend with them for five days a week and for four weeks in a month, it means they waste 10 days of the year on it.

If I could stretch it further and ask you how many hours per day do they spend on their smartphone – if they spend about four hours per day on it, by the end of the year they would have spent 56 days of their year just texting on their smartphone.

That’s almost two months in the year wasted on doing … nothing.

Here’s the problem.

The top three skills that the industry is yearning for in this century are: (1) professional and clear-cut communication skills, (2) critical thinking competencies; and (3) complex problem-solving abilities.

Nobody gains these three skills from the classroom. Nobody gains them by staying on WhatsApp, Twitter and Instagram the whole day either.

These skills are acquired through practical exposure to socioeconomic contradictions, organisational challenges, constant interactions with conflicting ideas, appreciating the empowering ethos of higher education, and growing consistent habits of reading difficult and relevant literature.

I specifically mention higher education because of its unique social value of delivering personal higher earnings in the formal economy and adding flexible and heightened cognitive skills demanded by the market as far as professional attributes are concerned.

In addition, higher education builds sociobehavioural skills such as resilience, selfconfidence, negotiation, selfexpression, teamwork and punctuality.

During the month of June, there were a series of debates about youth unemployment, with education and entrepreneurship being constantly preached as its panaceas.

I argue that the crux of the exact skills needed in this economy, are actually in the critical detail within education itself and how we choose to see it, approach it and ultimately utilise it.

The World Economic Forum in 2018 revealed that the currency of being a university graduate in a technical discipline such as accounting or law or medicine, was no longer enough for one to be globally competitive.

For instance, software has already been designed to do what SA universities teach their third-year accounting students.

The question then is how do we reconfigure the skills of the accounting field to offer higher forms of alternative and in-depth value in the market.

Already, the lawyer from the university is now required to possess further skills from just the horizontal application of law.

The lawyer must be able to have creative writing acumen, and the capacity to take intelligent decisions informed by other general sets of skills such as software literacy, quantitative research skills, data interpretation competencies and the ability to give legal advice in over 12 countries in the continent in the same working day, probably using three different languages.

Some global universities are already getting involved in the reconfiguration of their qualifications to offer multidisciplinary studies in commerce, social science, technology, art, medicine, media and engineering. Innovation and interpersonal intelligence are central to their programmes.

Peking University in Beijing is investing in infrastructure to facilitate the study of health big data, intelligence and precision medicine. The University of Malaya has established eight interdisciplinary research clusters that have a specific focus on business science and biotechnology.

In Tunisia, entrepreneurship courses are combined with non-cognitive skills such as self-confidence and teamwork. In China, pharmacology classes are imbibed with multilingualism while Mexico’s nanotechnology studies and robotics are mainstreamed in their technology and research innovation park.

This is the area and level of expertise the University of Johannesburg is beginning to position itself in. Most of these skills, especially the sociobehavioural attributes I mention, can also be personally acquired by anyone anywhere from their smartphone for free.

A personal smartphone in the hands of a young person, when used appropriately, can be an enormous asset. It can be used to access endless opportunities and learn an unlimited set of skills.

In fact, the World Bank recently observed that employers in Ukraine and Cuba regard a lack of sociobehavioural skills on the same level as the lack of technical skills. To them, one cannot be a doctor who is unable to communicate with its minimally educated patients in their home language.

So, the call is for the youth to prioritise the utilisation of their time to accumulate a diverse set of technical and sociobehavioural skills that would make them internationally literate.

The players who will be ahead are those who consciously choose to be champions of their own development, have the ability to bring imaginative, unique, and gamechanging ideas, and possess critical thinking abilities, problem solving skills, and communication etiquette. These are the skills of this lifetime.

● Pedro Mzileni is a PhD sociology candidate at Nelson Mandela University