As Jamaican youths look to embrace entrepreneurial opportunities, especially in the information communication technology (ICT) sector, local universities are trying to keep up with the trend.
Pro-vice-chancellor at the University of the West Indies Professor Alvin Wint said the institution has been taking the necessary steps.
"Starting with our current strategic plan, we create what we call the platform for the 'ideal student'. The premise for that platform is that graduates must be entrepreneurial," he noted. He said all departments across the university's territories in the region have reoriented their curricula to the production of entrepreneurs.
"And coming out of that, we've had a whole slew ... of new programmes oriented towards entrepreneurship," he said. Professor Wint was among guests at Wednesday's Gleaner's Editors' Forum on youth employment opportunities in the virtual economy. He noted this change in teaching is happening at other institutions in Jamaica, including Northern Caribbean University.
"There is a very important focus on helping students to understand that the ultimate is not necessarily to work for someone else, but to see to what extent they can use their own initiative to create opportunities," he said of the programme. Professor Wint suggested that such thinking would be important for the region in developing economic opportunities that do not just relate to the global economy, but also relate to our internal economy.
The stockholders were quizzed about Jamaica's readiness to produce entrepreneurs in the burgeoning ICT sector. Giorgio Valentini, World Bank representative for Latin America and Caribbean, said that Jamaica was ranked in the middle in terms of readiness for ICT.
"Our mobile penetration is very high. However, broadband penetration is very low ... so that is one of the key issues that needs to be increased", said Valentini. Professor Wint noted that good mobile penetration was important because many devices are moving in that direction.
"We have other indicators that are reasonable, certainly in relation to our per capita income level," he said. Professor Wint said that initial success in the drive to create a more entrepreneurial mindset was seen in the interest in the programme from students. He said the UWI had also started to see where students are coming out with new business projects and plans.
"But it's in its infancy and it's a recent phenomenon. The very strong culture of the region is that people get educated to go and seek jobs and that is ingrained in the culture, and changing that culture will not (happen) overnight. But I think we are beginning to see evidence that there is a new approach."
Wint admitted that such entrepreneurial training should start long before students get to the tertiary level.
"We have had conversations with the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC). If you look at the CXC syllabus, they have started to introduce issues on business formation and business ideas. But yes, it has to start early. In fact, it has to start from pre-school where we focus a lot on issues of creativity." He opined that, historically, Jamaica's education system has more focused on regimentation and rote learning.
"We've been pushing for much more activity-focused curricula and trying to develop critical-thinking skills of students from the onset."