South Africa’s youth unemployment rate has averaged 55.83 % from 2013 until now, reaching an all-time high of 66.50% in the third quarter of 2021. The latest data from Statistics South Africa show that youth unemployment rose by 1.1%, and nearly a quarter of a million young people lost their jobs, in the first three months of 2023.
Deputy President Paul Mashatile has said that government must prioritise the creation of mass youth employment and business opportunities by implementing policies that foster entrepreneurship, enhance vocational training, improve access to finance, and encourage private-sector investment. Speaking during Entrepreneurship Month, Shaun Fuchs, who is CEO and founder of Centennial Schools, says that the education system should play a more proactive role in developing young entrepreneurs.
“Given our economic outlook, young South Africans can’t rely on the formal sector for employment. It’s become imperative that we equip our youth with the skills and acumen they need to start and run businesses that thrive, both to stimulate the economy and create employment,” says Fuchs.
The curriculum at Centennial Schools includes entrepreneurship modules that start at grade 8 level. Fuchs says that this forms part of Centennial’s focus on enhancing the standard curriculum with “practical knowledge that prepares young people for the working world.”
Fuchs, a life-long educator and serial entrepreneur, says that learners need to be taught a host of skills to support an entrepreneurial lifestyle: “We look at aspects like marketing, financial management, innovation and networking, and we also teach coding and content creation, and familiarise our students with the virtual world of cryptocurrencies and blockchain. These are future-forward skills that young people need to have in order to successfully integrate into the business landscape.”
The school believes that it’s crucial to take the students out of the classroom and away from the theory, by partnering them with entrepreneurs so that they can spend time in the work environment.
Lethabo, a grade 8 learner at Centennial, says that the Entrepreneurship module is teaching them the practical aspects that go into running a business. “The most interesting part, for me, has been learning how you as a business owner needs to be aware of your customers’ feelings about your brand – and how speed of service can set you apart.”
Michael and Daniel, also in grade 8, have learned that entrepreneurship powers innovation. “Small businesses drive innovation and support the bringing of new products, services and technology to a market, thereby increasing competition and boosting productivity,” says Michael. Daniel says that this innovation benefits both the people directly involved in entrepreneurial ventures, as well as the country as whole.
Their classmate Victoria says she’s learnt that creating jobs gives South Africans an opportunity to change their lives, while Cecil notes that equipping people with the skills to become self-sustaining means fewer people will have to rely on loans to survive.
Fuchs says that while the pandemic forced schools, teachers and students to look at learning differently, young people who will enter the job market in a few years face many challenges that aren’t being addressed by the broader education system. “There’s a real need to provide students with an innovative approach to education that harnesses technology, encourages lateral thinking, and teaches skills they can take forward into the ever-changing future. By fostering the realisation that students need to take charge of their own education, we also hope to instil a desire to take charge of their futures – and by so doing, to entrench the role of entrepreneurship in growing the economy and contributing to reducing unemployment,” says Fuchs.