Can educators influence entrepreneurship amongst young people?

By: Sisanda Ntshinga

Emmanuel Ekeesit (29) is a teacher from Jinja in Uganda and has been teaching English and Literature to seniors in Secondary School for two years. As someone who was impacted by his own teacher in High School Emmanuel understands the importance of having a supportive teacher in your life while at school. “In my final year in Secondary School my family struggled financially and there was this one teacher that always had my back and helped me, so I always wanted to be a teacher. This teacher was my friend and had a very personal impact on me.”

Coming from a community riddled with poverty, it is not unlikely to have students that have started their own businesses in order to pay their school fees and contribute to the family’s upkeep. Emmanuel says as an educator his role is to help these students find a balance because as good as running a business can be, it can also affect the learner’s schooling. “As a teacher you have to understand that there are some learners that come from low income communities, and you can’t just tell them to stop working because that could be how they pay their school fees. But they have to learn to strike a balance between their study time and the business. So I think the role of the teacher is to also act like a mentor and drive their passion.”

There are many challenges that teachers who teach very young entrepreneurship face and  one on those is the possibility of the student dropping out. Emmanuel says he believes money can be addictive and sometimes once the students get used to making an income they want to drop out of school.

 “It’s very common here to hear a child saying ‘we go to school so we can make money, so why are we still going to school if we’re already making money?’.” But Emmanuel says he always tries to make his students see that education is not just about making money.

“I tell them the knowledge they get at school will ultimately help them become better business owners and helps them look at thing from different perspectives.”

Big classes; little resources

Having a huge a number of children in a class is also a challenge that makes it hard for teachers to better assist those with businesses. Emmanuel says these children are often treated like outcasts because many teachers live in bubbles. “I think some teachers live in denial and you’ll find them telling students to just focus on their studies and asking why they are running businesses as if they don’t know we have students who come from different classes.” But with low salaries and overcrowded classes it’s hard for teachers to give more of themselves than what is expected. “Government needs to make classes smaller because I have around 100 students in my class, so it’s hard to expect teachers to have an interactive relationships with their students.”

Emmanuel is however hopeful because there are success stories of young entrepreneurs who have gone to build sustainable businesses, but he admits it has happened with the help and support of parents as well. “Parents can play an advisory role and encourage their children to work on the businesses during the weekends, while focussing on school work during the week.” Growing up Emmanuel had a friend in high school who ran an events business and a magazine as side hustles after school and that friend has now gone into those industries full time.

“The difference between him and those who have not made it was his mother. She was a high school principal. She encouraged him to stay in school and push his dreams as well. She was very supportive.” According to Emmanuel teachers play a similar role. “There’s a saying that goes if you leave the education of your children to teachers you will be disappointed and I strongly believe that. I think the teacher plays a 10% role but the parents the remaining 90%.”

Featured image: Anzisha fellow Geoffrey Mulei at the 2015 Anzisha Prize Gala (Photo Credit: Mfundo Mbanze)

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