Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Rejoinder: The Work Culture of Ghanaian Students;Why Don't Most Ghanaian University Students Work?

This will be my very first rejoinder on this blog.  Its going to be long but well worth your time. I woke up to find a few of my friends on Facebook in an uproar over an article concerning work culture among Ghanaian students. I reposted it on my wall and of course had many more of my friends in a delicious discussion(you know how much I love debates and discussions!) so I decided I'd write a response to that article.
The article I am writing this rejoinder to can be found here: http://www.ghanacelebrities.com/2014/06/01/work-culture-ghanaian-students-dont-ghanaian-university-students-work/.

I will try my best to address a few issues raised by the article above as dispassionately and objectively as possible. I am quite qualified I think, since I went to the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Ghana, and also had the opportunity to travel abroad for further studies. This rejoinder will not be a bashing or insulting post about the author. The author did bring up a very critical issue for debate and discussion, so here's my two cents on the matter.

The author began by stating his background and his experience quite clearly. From his standpoint, his friends were asking him for money and he had a problem with that. He then went ahead to attribute their asking him for money to the fact that most of them don't work in school and that's why they asked him for money. Right from this beginning, his argument was flawed. I have many friends with well paying jobs in Ghana who will still tell me to send them money when I'm outside the country. I used to do that myself to a couple of really close friends who travelled abroad! It has nothing to do with their working or not and everything to do with our culture and mindset that anyone overseas is better off than we are. Many Ghanaians assume that because someone lives in Europe or the Americas or elsewhere, they earn a lot of money, live in luxurious apartments and drive latest model cars! Contrast that with the reality that the author mentions briefly, which is most of those abroad work very hard just to keep a roof over their heads and phone lines active so home folks can call, text or Facebook message them to ask for money. That is the heart of the issue here, not a lack of gainful employment as the author wants to argue.

The rest of the article mentions very briefly the benefits of working as  a college student and talked about the fact that even students who do not need money work overseas because they would like to get some experience. Well isn't that just well and dandy for them! Its great to work for the experience and learning opportunity but is it feasible in Ghana? The author makes another flawed argument here, one that is based almost entirely on the premise that Ghana has the same economic and cultural system as all other countries in the US, Europe and Asia. Again, this is just typical of many Ghanaians, drawing non-existent and unrealistic comparisons between our country and other nations. Let's get one thing straight: Ghana is NOT the US or the UK. Here are just a few differences that I can think of out the many many many to infinity differences that exist.

1.We do not pay employees by the hour. As in, we do NOT pay by the hour. There is a fixed rate of pay for employees MONTHLY, not even weekly. If you happen to find an employer who is kind enough to split the pay into weekly stubs, then hurray! However, that is the exception and not the rule.



2. Ghanaian employers do not pick part time or seasonal employees for many of the jobs you're proposing are available to students. If you are not willing to work FULL-TIME for many employers, then you're out.

3.Just as a follow-up from 2, the jobs you THINK are available to students are actually not available period. Many of these jobs are offered to uneducated or less educated individuals who are willing to work whenever they're needed, not to students whose time tables are fixed and unchangeable.

4.Which leads me to another follow-up off of 3: Ghanaian students do not get to decide when they want to go to class or which classes to take. There are no multiple sections of a lab, neither are there multiple times available for one class. In fact, there is no such thing as I will declare my major later and so I'll take classes in History and Anatomy. You are admitted to your major and from your first year, you are required to take a fixed list of courses every semester. Those courses will not have several sections. You either show up at the designated time on your fixed time table, or you fail the class. Your choice. How exactly is a student supposed to hold a full time job( since part time is impossible) in this case?




5. One of the most important differences is this: the culture in Ghana is different from that in other parts of the world. In Ghana, your parents are obligated by our values to take care of you through-out your education up until college level (and in my case beyond). In fact, those of our colleagues who did not have parents taking care of them were considered less fortunate. That is not to say that because your parents will pay the bills you shouldn't work. It means that culturally, it reflects poorly on your parents if you work as a student. As an example, a university student from a single parent home wanted to work during her summer break. She wanted to find work as a sales rep because her mom was a teacher and times were tough. She wanted to get some money to help out. She told her mom, who promptly forbid her from doing so. That was no false story, because that student was me. My mom did not want anyone telling her she wasn't capable of caring for her daughter so she said no. While some of you may think this is a bad thing, its actually one of the greatest things about our culture, because it means my mom maintained control over me and I dared NOT disrespect her. Whenever she told me to do something, I did it because she wasn't just my mom, she was taking care of me. Contrast that with many American college students who live on their own and pay their own way. Many of them have no respect for authority because they think they are their own bosses. And who can really blame them? In our culture, taking care of you is the way your parents make sure you're living by cultural norms that will benefit you in future.



6.Which leads me up to another point: many of such jobs are looked down upon in Ghana because historically, they have been held by uneducated individuals and in some cases, people considered to have a bad character. Some of these jobs are culturally frowned upon for young people because they are thought to corrupt them. As an example, bar-tending is a popular part-time employment for many college students in the US. Let's try Ghana. I can just imagine the scene where Jojo or Akua is seen by their parent's friend working in a bar. Ummm....what?!!!! Do I really need to paint to you the picture of what happens next? The perceived disgrace? The negative perception by those people? And who can blame them? Even though there are many decent bars, many bars are simply not a place I'd want my daughter to hang out in the name of work experience, not unless the work experience was learning how to stay unaffected by shady characters. Enough said.



Finally, the author fails to mention the fact that many students do seek seasonal employment in the form of internships or attachments. These internships are usually unpaid. When I did my internship, I had to wake up at 4am every day in order to get public transportation (which I paid for by the way), just so I could arrive at 8am sharp where I worked. Then I'd have to feed myself throughout the day and then repeat the 1.5 hour transit home in choked traffic, sometimes waiting for hours just to get a ride home, not to mention risk being robbed or kidnapped by miscreants in the evening and get home exhausted to repeat the cycle the next day. I did in fact get kidnapped and robbed in one these public transports once, and robbed another time, just so you know I'm not making it up. So, would you say that it was worth it for me to go through such a permanently scarring situation to gain work experience and not be paid even a cent for it? I'm not sure. The jury's still out on that one.


While my case may be extreme, I'm not sure the pay is worth the time, pain and exhaustion a student would have to endure to work part time in Ghana. Just in case the author forgot, minimum wage in the West is still like decades removed from minimum wage in Ghana. I'm not saying that the wages should be the same, but even if we consider the economic situation, minimum wage from a part time job in Ghana is not sufficient to even cover the cost of transportation to and from the job. That is simply not the case for students in the west, who can access public transport or their own cars on better roads or rail systems. Let's not forget, the pay can at the very least cover the transport fare.

I'm not saying by this rejoinder that Ghanaian students shouldn't work. I am saying that it is not feasible. Its not because we are lazy or proud. As I have pointed out, the reasons for looking down on certain jobs are based on cultural factors and not just the 'ick' factor. Aside from that, many students travel outside the country and take up these very same jobs because they're available to them and the culture is different. Some students are engaged in some of these jobs in Ghana when they can find them. As an example, a friend of mine owned a taxi while in the university and drove it himself at night or over the weekends. He's an exception because many of the above mentioned factors make it difficult for the majority of students to do the same or similar jobs.
When our country  gets to the point where one day many of the wage, security and transportation issues are dealt with then maybe working while in school would become more popular .
Till then, perhaps it is more beneficial for Ghanaian students to engage in entrepreneurial activities like starting their own small businesses or work online with Odesk and other legitimate websites. That's already happening, since the owners of many successful companies such as Pistis started while they were in university. Let's hope that this continues, but perhaps the author is better off just saying No to those who request for money from him rather than making arguments based on fiction.
Alright. I think I've said enough.