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Graduate employability

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Authorities and scholars frequently comment about higher education graduates and their employability in Lesotho. The Council on Higher Education (CHE) and the Ministry of Education and Training’s (MoET), 2018 Education Statistics Bulletin regularly provides Higher Education Institutions (HEI) throughput and graduation statistics. However, together with HEIs, these bodies do not have a database of their graduates beyond graduation. Institutions do not compile tracer studies of the graduates.

Nevertheless, according to CHE, the Ministry of Public Service shows that 4 139, 2 836, and 3 351 graduates who completed their studies in 2015/16, 2016/17 and 2017/18, respectively, could not find employment. These statistics do not include job seekers in security and education establishments. A possible reason for the number of graduates who registered as jobseekers dwindling through the years is because graduates lose confidence in obtaining employment.

In 2013, contrary to the common saying that knowledge frees the poor from poverty, a local paper reported that graduates were forced to hide their degrees. The article explains how thousands of graduates face the frustration of not finding a job. Education came to haunt the graduates. Lesotho’s latest statistics show that the status quo persists. The high unemployment levels lead to an increased number of economically active persons migrating to South Africa.

In 2008, Lesotho had 42.3% of its economically active population employed.
The Central Bank of Lesotho researchers report that unemployment has been of grave concern to Lesotho. Stakeholders associate graduate employability with the quality of education graduates receive at HEIs. Consequently, scholars suggest that HEIs must incorporate entrepreneurial skills into their curriculum. The 2008 MoET education policy addressed the entrepreneurial skills problems in the Lesotho school education system.

This article discusses an endeavour that international HEIs use to tackle graduate joblessness. The article looks at graduate quality through the lens of graduate attributes. I show that HEIs can use graduate non-employability as a tool to update their curriculum using the needs of industry and the workplace. But graduate quality is more than employability.

Graduate quality in terms of the employer is crucial. The term quality in education is elusive. It requires constant adjustments and redefinition to capture complexities and contextual realities. It needs attention because the profit-oriented corporate world commodifies quality. This leads to higher education commodification, where students are treated as commodities and not human beings.

The quality of a product of education is not a new concept in Lesotho. The MoET gives the aims of education in terms of what the learners will do on completion of a level. For example, the 2008 MoET education policy characterises the secondary education product under the section marked: Curriculum Aims of Secondary Education. The section describes the attributes of the students at the end of secondary education. The overall outcomes of secondary education are national.

On the other hand, the HEI institution graduate characters are institutional and vary according to programmes, and qualifications students enrolled for. They will also depend on the nature of employment that graduates will seek.
What qualities do organisations and employers measure quality by? They look at the speed at which an employee begins to contribute effectively to their organisation. Knowledgeable graduates display ideas and skills the organisation require. Moreover, employers seek graduates who are willing to learn and do so speedily, are flexible to adapt and possess the ability to deal with change.

They look for a graduate employee who integrates quickly and contributes to the organisation’s growth. They must add value to the organisation. Also, the graduates must be logical, analytical thinkers and critical problem-solvers. They must display synthetic skills and are impactful innovators. But these qualities impact society and the general community, as well.

This focus on what the graduate will do to advance the employers’ aspirations overly limits the quality of the graduate and the purpose of higher education. Scholars Rahman and Shuib warn against using employability as a measure of graduate quality. They identify commodification of graduates and higher education as the main limitation. The practice treats students as clients they sell their commodity to at a profit. In the same way, graduates are commodities that employers use for profit-making.

The use of employability as an indicator of quality commercialises ‘knowledge’. HEIs are no longer a place of knowledge production through research, teaching and learning and community outreach. Higher education provides a service to their clients, the students. Knowledge is a service. The client-profit system shifts the role of higher education to service provision, and students become clients. This is not higher education’s role in society. It is not an agency for transformation.

Graduates must possess exceptional skills that will transform an organisation. Lesotho needs graduates who can influence the public good to improve the quality of life in their communities and nations. With this understanding in view, they thus referred to the attributes as involving ‘agency’. They drive change. In Lesotho, they must drive transformation.

Graduates must add value to the organisation they serve. But, they must go beyond adding value to the organisations they serve. A scholar, Leesa Wheelahan, introduces the term graduateness. Graduateness entails the capacity to make connections between different experiences and different ways of knowing, between theoretical and practical knowledge and explicit and implicit understanding. A graduate must display fitness for the purpose and value of money they are employed for and paid.

Graduateness denotes the value of the degree that a graduate holds. It is a state of being as a result of achieving a combination of graduate attributes. It characterises the features a graduate possesses by having completed a degree. Employability is one indicator of the possession of the necessary characteristics for the employing organisation to function effectively. However, graduateness is more holistic. It goes beyond employability.

But the transformative attribute exceeds graduate employment. Using Mills’ argument, transformation must enable Lesotho to completely disentangle herself from colonialism and donor dependence to attain complete socio-economic independence. Higher education programmes must address Lesotho’s developmental needs. HEIs must be agency, the agency that drives our transformation. Therefore our institutions must produce a product, a graduate that must drive Lesotho to complete freedom. The HEIs’ role in society is knowledge production and transformation.

They must produce graduates who will push the transformation agenda of Lesotho.
The demands of the 21st century, where the world is rapidly shifting into the fourth industrial revolution, compel HEIs to develop a new graduate. Graduates who best serve themselves as human beings, employers, and society, an agent of transformation. A term that higher education, including quality assurance bodies, introduced to characterise graduates’ quality is ‘graduate attributes’.

An Australian, Simon Barrie, explains that universities have sought to articulate the outcomes of university education by describing the characteristics of their graduates. These are statements that inform HEIs curriculum. They represent core competencies and values the HEI community agrees all its graduate should develop on completing their studies. These qualities manifest in the skills, competencies and knowledge that graduates display. They shape their contribution professionally and as citizens.

The term ‘graduate attributes’ is fluid and varies from institution to institution and with individual academics in departments. Similarly, there is a need for regular dialogue for a shared understanding within and without the institution to refine the meaning.
Graduate attributes are not taught in a single classroom and are not topics in a subject or course. The curriculum embeds them, as a result, inculcate them in students. They inform the curriculum, compelling academics to think about how they may change their teaching and assessment practices to foster the kind of a graduate they seek from their students.

The curriculum may not readily develop some graduate attributes.
They develop as students engage in different activities outside the formal curriculum. They confirm the notion that qualifications are more than the sum of their parts holds. A graduate must exhibit skills, knowledge and competencies that far exceeds knowledge, skills and competencies students acquire in the classroom. Their quality is not an aggregate of assessments scores. It is also essential that institutions and academics ensure that students know that they are acquiring the said institutional and discipline attributes.

Graduate attributes are a combination of skills, attributes and knowledge that should be aspired for in graduates. It is about the nature of the things on the list and the nature of the list itself. However, much of this transcends individuals, employment and citizenry. An example of graduate attributes will include the following:

l academic and discipline attributes
l communication skills
l research and inquiry
l the ability to be a reflective learner
l global citizenship
l ethical leadership.

Departments must ensure that they provide students with opportunities to develop these attributes within the curriculum. Academics must align curriculum to institutional graduate attributes and ensure that they inculcate them in students. However, academics need to be aware that not all graduate attributes may develop in the classroom.

Developing graduate attributes in students is the responsibility of the country’s education system. The system must coordinate them amongst providers at all educational levels. HEIs would then decontextualise knowledge into curriculum experiences for students.
The graduate attributes movement in universities, the emergence of quality assurance bodies are intertwined with the massification of higher education when university education ceased from being elitist.

Internationally, quality assurance bodies embrace graduate quality measures such as graduate attributes by inquiring about them in institutional, programme audits, and programme accreditations. The audits must demand institutions and their programmes to show how their curricula incorporate their missions and visions into their graduate attributes in their qualifications and programmes.

Most universities worldwide introduced work-integrated learning (WIL) as a compulsory component in their curriculum due to the graduate attribute movement. They copied this from vocational professions such as nursing, teaching, medicine and law, who make WIL a condition for entering their domain.

Incorporating WIL into the curriculum provides an added advantage. WIL allows students to apply theory in a work context. The role of higher education is human capital developments, and industry and workplace are recipients. Therefore, WIL enables the sector to assess the readiness of student-trainees for work while at HEIs. WIL provides students and the institution with the opportunity to address shortcomings that students may possess while they are within their study programmes.

At the same time, WIL is the mirror through which institutions review their curriculum. WIL enable employers to make inputs on the quality of the curriculum. But, the reverse is true. WIL also allows academics to make inputs into professional practices. The academic institution produces knowledge through research. This new knowledge could be theoretical or contextual. Contextual knowledge is the knowledge that seeks to improve professional practices, that is, practical knowledge.

With all its challenges about graduate employability, or the lack thereof, Lesotho does not embrace the graduate attribute movement. CHE does not assess graduate employability. The 16 criteria Institutional Self-Evaluation Report template and all the supporting documents do not evaluate the employability of graduates. For example, the word closest to employability in CHE’s framework is the inquiry about graduates’ employment. Section G: ‘aligning higher education programmes with national priorities (sic) asks one question about institutions’ employment graduates. This is a serious omission. CHE uses the outcomes-based approach to assessment, yet it neglects to enquire about higher education outcomes in terms of the quality of its products.

There are many lessons that our higher education system can learn from international experiences. CHE and the MoET do not demand HEIs to incorporate graduate attributes in their institutional and programmes statements. Graduateness and graduate attributes are conspicuous by their absence in CHE’s institutional audits and accreditation templates. This is a grave omission.

These constructs provide vital information on the quality and relevance of HEIs’ curriculum. But, institutions and authorities must not take the quality of the graduate, as stated by the graduate attributes, for granted. These attributes must transcend the curriculum outcomes, intended and unintended. HEIs must declare upfront the type of graduate they will produce.

HEIs must hold regular consultations with all stakeholders, including communities. The talks enable them to understand the needs and aspirations of their communities to draw the nature of the graduates that society expects and the curriculum that will allow them to attain these goals.
WIL is a critical component in vocational and professional qualifications. However, WIL is not part of qualifications at institutions such as the National University of Lesotho. This article shows that internationally, most universities incorporated WIL into their curriculum to overcome the scourge of unemployment.

WIL enable institutions to provide students with opportunities to apply theory into practice. In this way, WIL provides students with real work experience opportunity while studying. In this way, it enables the graduates to be ready for employment on graduation. Also, institutions may further evaluate their programmes’ offerings.

In conclusion, graduateness and graduate attributes provide HEIs with dual purposes. They assess the readiness of graduates for work while at the same time providing HEIs with opportunities to align their curriculum to the needs of communities they serve. Taking from Wheelahan’s assertion that qualifications are more than the sum of their parts, a graduate must contribute more than what is written on their paper qualification. Graduate Attributes and WIL are the way to go.
CHE must make graduate attributes compulsory in higher education. The audits must confirm their presence.

Dr Tholang Maqutu

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Insight

The Joker Returns: Conclusion

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Last week I was talking about how jokes, or humour generally, can help get one through the most desperate situations (although it’s like taking a paracetamol for a headache; a much, much stronger resort is faith). I used the example of how Polish Jews, trapped and dying in the Warsaw ghetto, used humour to get them through day by day.

A similar, though less nightmarish, situation obtains in today’s Nigeria. Conditions there are less hellish than those of the Warsaw ghetto, but still pretty awful. There are massive redundancies, so millions of people are jobless. Inflation is at about 30% and the cost of living is sky-rocketing, with the most basic foodstuffs often unavailable. There is the breakdown of basic social services.

And endemic violence, with widespread armed robbery (to travel by road from one city to another you take your life in your hands) and the frequent kidnapping for ransom of schoolchildren and teachers. In a recent issue of the Punch newspaper (Lagos) Taiwo Obindo, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Jos, writes of the effects of economic hardship and insecurity on his people’s mental health.

He concludes: “We should see the funny side of things. We can use humour to handle some things. Don’t take things to heart; laugh it off.”

Professor Obindo doesn’t, regrettably, give examples of the humour he prescribes, but I remember two from a period when things were less grim. Power-cuts happened all the time — a big problem if you’re trying to work at night and can’t afford a generator.

And so the National Electric Power Authority (NEPA) was universally referred to as Never Expect Power Always. And second, for inter-city travel there was a company called Luxurious Buses. Believe me, the average Lesotho kombi is a great deal more luxurious (I can’t remember ever having to sit on the floor of one of those).

And because of the dreadful state of Nigerian roads and the frequent fatal crashes, Luxurious Buses were referred to as Luxurious Hearses.

Lesotho’s newspaper thepost, for which I slave away tirelessly, doesn’t use humour very much. But there is Muckraker. I’ve always wondered whether Muckraker is the pen-name of a single person or a group who alternate writing the column.

Whatever, I’d love to have a drink with him / her/ them and chew things over. I like the ironic pen-name of the author(s). Traditionally speaking, a muckraker is a gossip, someone who scrabbles around for titbits (usually sexual) on the personal life of a celebrity — not exactly a noble thing to do.

But thepost’s Muckraker exposes big problems, deep demerits, conducted by those who should know and do better — problems that the powerful would like to be swept under the carpet, and the intention of Muckraker’s exposure is corrective.

And I always join in the closing exasperated “Ichuuuu!” (as I do this rather loudly, my housemates probably think I’m going bonkers).

Finally I want to mention television satire. The Brits are renowned for this, an achievement dating back to the early 1960s and the weekly satirical programme “TW3” (That Was The Week That Was). More recently we have had “Mock the Week”, though, despite its popularity, the BBC has cancelled this.

The cancellation wasn’t for political reasons. For decades the UK has been encumbered with a foul Conservative government, though this year’s election may be won by Labour (not such very good news, as the Labour leadership is only pseudo-socialist). “Mock the Week” was pretty even-handed in deriding politicians; the BBC’s problem was, I imagine, with the programme’s frequent obscenity.

As an example of their political jokes, I quote a discussion on the less than inspiring leader of the Labour Party, Sir Keir Starmer. One member of the panel said: “Labour may well have a huge lead in the polls at present, but the day before election day Starmer will destroy it by doing something like accidentally infecting David Attenborough with chicken-pox.”

And a favourite, basically non-political interchange on “Mock the Week” had to do with our former monarch, Queen Elizabeth II. Whatever one thinks about the British monarchy as an institution, the Queen was much loved, but the following interchange between two panellists (A and B) was fun:

A: Is the Queen’s nickname really Lilibet?
B: Yes, it is.
A: I thought her nickname was Her Majesty.
B: That’s her gang name.

OK, dear readers, that’s enough humour from me for a while. Next week I’m turning dead serious — and more than a little controversial — responding to a recent Insight piece by Mokhosi Mohapi titled “A reversal of our traditions and culture.” To be forewarned is to be prepared.

Chris Dunton

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Insight

Reading, writing and the art of reflection

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There is a close thread that runs through what you reflect on, what you read and what sticks in your mind. It’s almost a cyclic process with regards to how all these processes unfold. Today, in this installment we focus on the thread between reading, reflection and writing.

This appears a bit cumbersome to explain. But let’s simplify it. Let’s begin with a beautiful poem which encompasses what we have so far spoken about. Here we are! The poem is penned by “Tachibama Akemi.” It goes:

It is a pleasure
When, rising in the morning,
I go outside and
Find that a flower has blossomed
That was not there yesterday.

Seemingly, the poem is simple. But, on close analysis, it reflects very deep reflection and thoughtfulness.

The persona, in an existential fashion, reflects all about the purpose and meaning of life and his place in the overall matrix of life.

The persona carefully reflects on nature. This is what makes all this poem rustic and romantic.

The persona thinks deeply about the blossoming flowers and how the process of the growth of flowers appears almost inadvertently.

It is a poem about change, healing, the lapse of time and the changes or vissiccitudes in the life of a person are reflected creatively through imagery and poetry. We all go through that, isn’t it? We all react and respond to love, truth and beauty.

So far everything appears very interesting. Let’s just put to the fore some good and appealing thoughts. Let’s enlarge on reading, writing and reflection.

Kindly keep in mind that thoughts must be captured, told, expressed and shared through the magical power of the written word.

As a person, obviously through keeping entries in a journal, there is no doubt that you have toyed about thoughts and ideas and experiences you wish you could put across.

Here is an example you can peek from Anthony. Anthony likes writing. He tells us that in his spare time he likes exploring a lot. And, more often than not he tells us,

“I stop, and think, and then when I find something, I just keep on writing.”

So crisp, but how beautiful. Notice something interesting here; you need to stop, to take life effortlessly and ponderously, as it were; observe, be attentive to your environment; formulate thought patterns and then write.

To some extent, this article builds on our previous experiences when we spoke at length about the reading process.

But how can you do it? It’s not pretty much different. I can help you from my previous life as a teacher of English Languge.

The most important skill you must cultivate is that of listening, close listening. Look at how people and events mingle.

What makes both of you happy; enjoy it. I am sure you still keep that journal in which you enter very beautiful entries. Reflect about Maseru, the so-called affluent city. So majestic!

How can you picture it in writing!

I am glad you learnt to reflect deep and write. Thank you very much. Kindly learn and perfect the craft of observing, reflecting and writing. Learn that connection. Let’s meet for another class.

Vuso Mhlanga

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Insight

The Joker Returns: Part One

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Don’t be put off by the title, esteemed readers; what follows has nothing to do with the Batman films. As you will be happily (or unhappily) aware, I am a big fan of jokes. There’s a common understanding that a joke is ruined if you have to explain it, and this is true, but some jokes do need a bit of background explanation. Anyway. I like jokes and I like thinking about how they work.

Many of my favourite jokes have to do with language and the way we use it. For example: “I just bought myself a thesaurus. I similar it very much.”

Other jokes have to do with human behaviour and here it is important, out of respect for others, to avoid jokes that perpetuate stereotypical ideas about gender, race, nationality, and so on. I’m afraid the following joke does depend upon a stereotype (I’ll come back to that), but here goes, after a bit of background information.

In Lesotho you have an insect called a praying mantis — stick-like, bright green, and with great bulging eyes. They are rather lovable, despite the off-putting fact that the female practices insect cannibalism; after mating, she consumes the male. So, now you’ve had your zoological primer, here goes.

Two praying mantises are getting up close and personal. The female says to the male: “before we have sex and I bite your head off, could you help me put up some shelves?”

Apologies to female readers, because, as I said, that joke perpetuates a gender stereotype, namely, that women are good with a vacuum cleaner or a dustpan and brush, but hopeless with a hammer and nails.

There are many jokes that are, as it were, much more serious than that. As I rattled on about in a couple of earlier columns, many of these are satirical — jokes that are designed to point a finger at human folly or even wickedness. In another column, titled “Should we laugh?”, I explored the question “is there any subject that should be kept out of the range of humour?”

Well, apparently not, if we take on board the following account of the Warsaw ghetto.

Historical preface first.

The Warsaw ghetto represents one of the worst atrocities in modern history. In November 1940 the genocidal Nazis rounded up all the Jews in Poland’s capital and herded them into a small sector of the city, which they euphemistically, cynically, dubbed the “Jewish Residential District in Warsaw.”

Here nearly half a million Jews were in effect imprisoned, barely subsisting on tiny food rations. An estimated quarter of a million were sent off to the death camps. An uprising against the Nazi captors was brutally crushed. Around 100 000 died of starvation or disease.

Not much to laugh about there, you might say. But then consider the following, which I’ve taken from the New York Review of Books of February 29th this year:

“In the Warsaw Ghetto in October 1941 Mary Berg, then a teenager, wrote in her diary about the improbable persistence of laughter in that hellish place: ‘Every day at the Art Café on Leszno Street one can hear songs and satire on the police, the ambulance service, the rickshaws, and even the Gestapo, [on the latter] in a veiled fashion. The typhoid epidemic itself is the subject of jokes. It is laughter through tears, but it is laughter. This is not our only weapon in the ghetto — our people laugh at death and at the Nazi decrees. Humour is the only thing the Nazis cannot understand.’”

To be concluded

Chris Dunton

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