By Sophie Wilson, CDI Education Volunteer, 2018
This year, one of the Education team’s major initiatives will be to continue the Career Network Support (CNS) scheme. CNS consists of different workshop series and an entrepreneurial competition, intended to help secondary-school students in Dar es Salaam develop the soft skills highly valued by Tanzanian employers. The CNS cycle has evolved under the custodianship of the Cambridge Development Initiative (CDI) and Kite DSM over the past three years. CNS is front of everyone’s minds this week, as we ramp up preparations for the launch of 2018’s Think Big Challenge on 25th August.
It’s a fitting occasion to talk about CNS and I wanted to write this post for three reasons; i. to evaluate the relevance of the need being addressed, within the wider context of education and employment in Tanzania, ii. to clarify what CNS is and see how it addresses this need, and iii. to evaluate its impact.
The shift from content to competence
Skills mismatch in Sub-Saharan Africa is partially contributing to the region’s unemployment rate, which stood at 7.2% in 2017 . Youth unemployment in Tanzania is estimated between 10-15% . Many youth who enter the job market at times do not have the necessary practical skills to flourish. In response to the need for students to develop more analytical and market-oriented skills, the Tanzania Institute of Education (TEA) has made significant changes to the secondary school curriculum, including the introduction of new subjects such as computer literacy, unified science and social skills; actions which reflect a general shift in focus from content to competence .
However, the uptake of graduates into government and private sector jobs in Tanzania remains low. Many observers attribute this to the lack of participatory teaching and soft skills in school curricula, which would enable students to engage more critically with what they are taught. Analytical and problem-solving skills are not actively taught in schools; nor is career counselling common .
There is a clear and persistent need for proactive, skills-based learning over age-old techniques such as rote-memorisation in Tanzanian secondary schools. This reflects not only national and regional shifts in job market demand, but wider global transformation. The cheap and low-skilled labour once the source of competitive advantage in East Asian economies has been superseded by automation. Now, non-cognitive and socio-emotional skills are in demand. Yet many students continue to believe that what they are taught in the classroom adequately reflects the requirements of the job market .
Creating the context for success
The CNS initiative tries to address this challenge by simulating an environment in which students can develop such skills, particularly entrepreneurial thinking. These skills are best taught in context, and it is hoped that the opportunity to practice them will improve students’ confidence to succeed.
But before we can proceed any further, what actually is CNS?
Newbies to the Education team often need the 101 on this topic. Although you can peruse the components of the initiative in more detail here, I’ve tried to condense it down into a graphic, so as to distil the key features of CNS.
Figure 2: The Career Network Support (CNS) initiative, deconstructed
Our 2018 volunteers will be involved with all stages of the CNS cycle, organising the launch of the Think Big Challenge and Dream Sharing Event as our major summer events. In order to enable students to capture the full benefits, consistency is key; Youth Empowerment Clubs (YECs) will therefore also be implemented in the schools and continue throughout the year, so that students have a chance to use their new skills, as well as to develop and grow them.
As CDI is staffed with student volunteers from Cambridge University, the CDI model is constrained by the factors of committee turnover on an annual basis and a low on-the-ground presence of volunteers in Tanzania for the majority of the year. For this reason, the model of CDI and our partner organisation Kite DSM is to generate, pilot, test and launch initiatives during 8-week summer seasons, then to find suitable local handover partners so that the initiatives can be sustained.
Get ready for another acronym. In the case of CNS, our partner is Bridge for Change (BFC), a local NGO based in Dar es Salaam. BFC ensures that student participants in CNS receive ongoing mentorship and oversight as they implement their initiatives. BFC also ensures that the CNS cycle is renewed annually and that the impact of YECs is monitored over the course of the year . Soon, CDI and Kite DSM will transition full responsibility for CNS to BFC.
A programme with two outcomes
CNS generates two distinct outcomes. First, there are the unique initiatives developed within the Think Big Challenge. In previous years, these have ranged from transforming waste litter into fuel, to setting up a study area; from teaching English to younger students, to making their own cleaning equipment; from educating the community about the importance of girls’ education to setting up a secret society to enforce school security. Whilst these initiatives are not tracked by CDI and Kite DSM’s monitoring and evaluation teams, the YECs support students in sustaining their initiatives beyond the summer.
Second, there is the impact on participants themselves. Uplift in five key skills is tracked by the Education team – leadership, presentation, teamwork, confidence and problem-solving. Last year, interviews held mid-way through the challenge with focus group participants showed that these are front of mind for students at the start and end of CNS .
Figure 3: Mid-CNS cycle interviews with students in 2017, represented as a word cloud
In 2016, self-evaluation assessments conducted by CDI indicated that students’ ability to work collaboratively, feel confident in their own ideas and critically evaluate an idea increased as a result of CNS. They also reported feeling better able to maintain enthusiasm over an extended project period; something they rarely had exposure to within the regular school curriculum .
Doing things differently
Pulitzer Prize-winning author Thomas Friedman has written about the need for students to remain “innovation-ready” . With this and the Education team’s overall vision in mind, CNS’ core goal is to ensure that students leave school better prepared for employment. The scheme creates an environment for students to think more experimentally without fear of failure or punishment; a very real concern in an environment where caning is normal and ubiquitous. As we gear up to our launch on Saturday, we remain mindful of the importance, and very real need, for helping students learn how to become more entrepreneurially-minded. After all, as Albert Einstein said, “If you always do what you always did, you will always get what you always got”.
 International Labour Organisation (ILO). 2017. World Employment Social Outlook Trends Report. https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/—dgreports/—dcomm/—publ/documents/publication/wcms_541211.pdf
 Amy Fallon. 2017. East Africa’s teeming youth are in a race to acquire skills for a job market that’s left many behind. Quartz Africa. https://qz.com/africa/1030309/tanzania-and-kenyas-youth-are-taking-up-new-skills-training-programs/
 Esther Kibakaya. 2017. When your skills are not relevant in the job market. The Citizen. http://www.thecitizen.co.tz/magazine/success/When-your-skills-are-not-relevant-in-the-job-market/1843788-3957948-r11ljhz/index.html
 Florida Rodov and Sabrina Truong. 2015. Why schools should teach entrepreneurship. Entrepreneur. https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/245038
 CDI Education Project. 2016. Monitoring and Evaluation Report. https://cdieducation.weebly.com/publications.html
 CDI Education Project, 2017. Monitoring and Evaluation Report. https://cdieducation.weebly.com/publications.html