McGrath, S., King, K.

"Learning to Compete: African Education, Training and Small Enterprise Development in the Era of Globalisation."

The International Journal of Urban Labour and Leisure, 2(2) <>

ISSN: 1465-1270



Social science literature and public debates internationally have the notion of globalisation as one of their most current themes. The challenges brought about by globalisation are perceived to be particularly serious for the African continent. The least economically competitive continent is threatened with massively expanded competition; the least technologically advanced continent is faced with massive qualitative and quantitative change in the development and utilisation of new technologies.

Key arenas in which Africa inevitably will seek to face up to these perceived challenges will be those of learning, both in education and in training, and in small enterprise development. Since colonisation, the former has been seen as central to the number of developmental strategies developed in and for Africa. For a shorter time, but already for a quarter century now, the role of small enterprises and the informal sector has also been central to strategies of both economic development and poverty alleviation.

Given the centrality of these arenas to debates regarding African development and their resonances with the globalisation discourse, it is not surprising to note that they are sites of major discussion and activity at the levels of policy, practice and research. However, there has been little attempt as yet to marry existing discussion and activity in African education, training and small enterprise promotion with the implications that globalisation discourse has for developments in these arenas. Current discussions remain predominantly rooted in the paradigm of “learning from experience”, rather than in locating at the cutting-edge. The importance , which the latter implies, of building on past success and failure is not to be decried. Nonetheless, if the globalisation thesis is correct, then it surely points to the danger of basing future actions primarily on past outcomes. Instead, there is a need to examine what is emerging at what appears to be the forefront of debates in policy, practice and theory.

This is the challenge which this paper seeks to address. Whilst there appear to be sound reasons for maintaining a healthy scepticism regarding many of the claims of the globalisation discourse, which frequently makes iron laws of history from what at best are emergent, but fragile, trends; if true its implications are of such magnitude that practitioners, policy makers and researchers cannot afford to ignore it. In the pages that follow, there will be an attempt to outline some of the major elements of the globalisation discourse as it impacts on the areas of education, training and small enterprise development, and the implications of such impacts. This discussion is intended to provide a context within which a programme of research straddling these areas can be constructed.



Africa has long been economically linked to other parts of the world. The wealth of Great Zimbabwe owed much to trade links with Asia; Zanzibar was a vital node in an Indian Ocean trading system; Cape Town’s origins lay in its position on trading routes between North Western Europe and the Far East. In later times, the slave trade and colonisation cemented Africa’s place in an Atlantic economy. Nonetheless, it is argued that the world has entered upon a new phase on globalisation. The new waves of transport and communications revolutions, most recently reflected in satellite television, e-mail and the internet, are argued to have brought ever closer the notion of a world culture underpinned by a world economy. In that economic sphere, the continued growth of transnational corporations, the possibility of capital moving around the globe in search of new investments1 and the reinforcement of (relatively) free trade through GATT and the new WTO2, all are seen as indicators of the increased interdependence of economies.

This new wave of globalisation pressures impacts on all countries, but is perhaps most serious for the weakest. Already squeezed out of most lucrative international markets, they now find it increasingly difficult to compete domestically as foreign goods enter their markets in ever greater numbers. One effect of this is to change domestic notions of what constitutes a viable firm or industry. Many companies with long, successful domestic track records are shown to be inefficient by foreign competitors.

The globalisation discourse argues that increasingly the competitiveness gap lies in the difference between the value-added in the production process. As how good a product is becomes more pertinent than how cheap it is, so competitive advantage comes to reside primarily in the human capital that a firm, industry or country can utilise.


Post-Fordism and Flexible Specialisation

Over the past decade a series of literatures have developed in the North which explore the implications for production of such trends and others (e.g. Piore and Sabel 1984; Hall and Jacques 1989; Mathews 1989). In the 1990s this has increasingly been supported by two further debates. First, there has been a discussion of the implications for Northern learning systems of these trends (Reich 1991; Young 1992). Second, there has been the beginnings of an exploration of the relevance in the African context of the debate about the “new work order” (Kaplinsky 1991; Rasmussen, Schmitz and van Dijk 1992). What remains, as this paper will subsequently attempt, is an insertion of the African context into all these debates. However, first it is necessary to sketch some more details of the Northern debates around the notions of Post-Fordism and flexible specialisation.

The move towards a world economy is not the only major socio-economic transformation that is supposed to be taking place at the present time. It is argued that since the Oil Crisis of 1973 there has been a transformation of the underlying structure of the advanced capitalist states. From their structuration around mass production, mass consumption and mass modes of cultural and political organisation and identity, classified as Fordism; these states have embarked upon a reorganisation around flexible production, niche markets and multiple identities, often subsumed under the title of Post-Fordism.

It is the arena of production which is of immediate relevance to this paper. It is argued that the emergence of more diversified cultures and the related nicheing of markets require that producers shift from monolithic products and production lines to a mode of flexible specialisation. In this mode of operation they retain a core product focus, e.g. on electrical goods, but are able to adjust their exact range of product outputs flexibly in order to respond quickly and efficiently to changing and individualised consumer demands for these products (Piore and Sabel 1984).

This flexibility of product inevitably is reflected in the reorganisation of production and its demands on workers and machines. As the production process must be able to switch rapidly between different products, so the machine and the worker must be able to adapt to the production requirements of each product. This flexibility in turn has a range of further implications.

As well as reshaping the organisation of the production process, the flexible specialisation mode is argued to transform the overall organisation of the firm. According to Piore and Sabel, and their followers, the large corporation, with its multiple layers of managerial hierarchy and its centralised decision-making, is unsuited to flexibility. Rather, it is both the autonomous profit centre within decentralised corporations and the small firm that are better able to respond to these new challenges.


Implications for African Micro and Informal Enterprises

This heightened role for the small firm is of particular pertinence in the African context given the prevalence of such firms in many countries and the ever more parlous state of the large firm, whether parastatal or private, across the continent. The model postulated for the relationships of these small firms also holds potential significance. In order to prosper, such firms are believed to require networks of relationship with their peers. These networks provide both the cooperation needed to offset the disadvantages of small scale when it comes to activities such as marketing and the competition necessary to drive innovation (Piore and Sabel 1984).

As well as relationships with their peers in the small business community, these firms also enter into relationships with larger producers. Through sub-contracting relationships grounded in trust, exacting specifications and financial and technical support, these small firms are given a further level of supports and incentives to become innovative and competitive.

All these relationships must take place in geographic space and the flexible specialisation model has a picture of the ideal space for such location. Whilst globalisation makes the world a village, it is still the case that geographic proximity brings advantages. Therefore, the model of an industrial district is postulated. Whether in a dense network of small producers as is alleged to occur in Emilia-Romagna, or as sub-contractors clustered around the key large firm as at Toyota City in Japan, cooperation and collaboration between small producers is argued to benefit from close proximity (Piore and Sabel 1984).

As noted earlier, there has been an attempt to apply this model to the African context in the last few years. At a superficial level, the clustering of small producers in locations such as Suame Magazine in Kumasi or Gikomba in Nairobi appears to offer some similarities to European or North American industrial districts. The growing interest in the small enterprise development community in the promotion of sub-contracting (Wright 1990) and organisations of the informal sector (Boeh-Ocansey 1995) too could offer apparent convergences.

However, the apparent paralleling of Northern and African trends masks fundamental differences. Whilst Piore and Sabel talk of a return to the artisanal craft tradition, they in fact are looking at a high and multi-skilled development of craft production supported by advanced technologies such as computer-aided design. As already noted, the large firms which could serve as nodal points for small enterprise development are themselves in crisis (Lall et al 1994). Areas of high concentration of small craft production in Africa do seem to see rapid diffusion of innovations, but the frequency of such innovations is far from that claimed for Northern industrial districts. In a climate of labour surplus, weak large firms and often pre-modern production techniques in small enterprises, there is a very serious danger that sub-contracting may amount to little more than sweated labour denied even the rudiments of job and social security provided by contract employment in the formal sector (Romijn and de Wilde 1991).

Nonetheless, as pioneers of flexible specialisation studies in Africa argue, the approach can be an important methodological tool (Aeroe 1992; Rasmussen 1992; Pedersen 1996). An emphasis on the sources of innovation; the importance of the small enterprise; on networking and sub-contracting relationships between firms; and on clustering of producers provides valuable areas for research on ways of promoting African economic competitiveness.

The notions of Post-Fordism and flexible specialisation also bring implications for learning systems. In keeping with the globalisation discourse, the argument is that the key to economic success lies in the minds of the workforce (Reich 1991), a radical shift from the Taylorist drive under mass production to eradicate the influence of the worker’s consciousness from the production process. Instead of emphasising the need to minimise on labour costs and to use low skilled labour, the Post-Fordist approach talks of a high skill equilibrium (Finegold and Soskice 1988) in which the economy and the learning system is geared towards the development and utilisation of high quality labour.

This notion has led to a series of slogans which indicate the way in which the High Skill Equilibrium is intended to permeate both economy and society. From Australia comes the notion of the “clever country”, the country which is structured so as to maximise its production of high skill labour and high value goods and services. Firms and other institutions are called upon to become “learning organisations”, in which every challenge of production, distribution and management is treated as an opportunity to learn so that improvement is continuous. Such learning organisations are built up of “knowledge workers” who are expected and encouraged to engage intellectually with the production process. The new emphasis on workers’ brains is also reflected in structures for their on-going education and training as well as for their greater participation in the running of the firm (Mathews 1989).

Even more so than in the case of flexible specialisation, the gap between the vision and the African reality appears immense. Nonetheless, as with flexible specialisation, there appear grounds for arguing that important insights into the challenges facing Africa can be gained from a further consideration of these ideas. In the rest of this paper an attempt will be made to explore how insights from this and the flexible specialisation debate can be married to more established policy research concerns in the fields of both small enterprise development and education and training.


The Future of Small Enterprise Development Strategies

One of the central issues for research on small, i.e. typically informal, enterprises in Africa arising out of these Northern debates is that of dynamism. The story-line of research on the informal sector since the time of Hart (1973) and the ILO Kenya Mission (ILO 1972), has largely been a tale of the dynamism of the informal sector, often in contrast to the bureaucratised enervation of the state and the parastatals. The ILO in the 1995 World Employment Report, however, characterises the vast majority of the African informal sector as “stagnant” and a “sponge” (ILO 1995). Is it the case then, as King (1996b) suggests, that the African informal sectors we have judged as dynamic when viewed within local and national perspectives are in truth far from dynamic when viewed through the lens of globalisation? Indeed, will even this limited, local dynamism, beloved of the researcher of the informal sector, prove to be an artefact of a particular phase of African economic development, to be drowned under the waves of globalisation?

Such a questioning of dynamism could also lead to a rethinking of the debates surrounding interventions in the informal sector. It is often argued that the dynamism of the sector is both powerful enough that it should be, where possible, left to its own devices, and sufficiently fragile that any intervention is likely to do more harm than good. There is undoubtedly a case for arguing that many interventions are likely to have significant negative impacts, particularly when large amounts of money are introduced into such fragile and contested structures as many informal sector organisations or networks appear to be. Nonetheless, if dynamism is not so great as alleged, then the case for intervention and against non-interference potentially becomes more persuasive.

One key area for support which reflects the insights that globalisation and flexible specialisation can provide is that of the creation and enhancement of technological confidence (King 1996a). If innovation, maximised productivity and intellectual skills are indeed at the root of competitiveness, then this notion acquires great significance. One of the apparent differences between African informal sector artisans and the multi-skilled craft workers of Piore and Sabel is that whilst the former have the technical competence to adapt existing products to cheaper methods, machines and materials, they lack the latter’s ability to regularly innovate. It is this innovative capability that is summed up by the notion of technological confidence. The question of how to transform the abundant ability to improvise into an capacity to innovate thus becomes an important possible theme for future research.

This notion of technological confidence begins to get to the heart of the importance of what can be termed “human value-added” to the challenge of making the African informal sector, and the wider economy, more competitive. How can informal sector communities, firms and workers become “clever”? Surveys of the performance of traditional apprenticeship systems have appeared in recent years (e.g. Adam 1995). These typically paint a picture of a well-established and relatively formalised system, at least as far as West Africa is concerned (Fluitman 1994). Apprentices gain both technical and business skills and begin to acquire the networks and capital that will be crucial for their future careers as independent artisans (McGrath and King 1995). However, surveys appear to agree that the lack of trade theory, the rudimentary pedagogy and the productive limitations of the masters mean that apprentices fail to acquire technological confidence. As supplements and alternatives to the system of traditional apprenticeship continue to proliferate, so this would point to the need to explore how the development of technological confidence can be incorporated into such programmes. However, the traditional apprenticeship system only serves a limited number of places and trades and often discriminates on ethnic, caste and gender lines. Therefore, there is a need to examine in a more fundamental way the best mechanisms for developing and enhancing systems of training for the informal sector across Africa. A broader discussion of this issue will be postponed till the later examination of education and training systems.

The model of flexible specialisation offers other insights for small enterprise development research, as was noted earlier. One of these is the importance of networking. There has been a growing concern among donors and NGOs that associations of the informal sector are valuable and in need of support. Governments have proved more cautious here, fearing the potential political power of such organisations, although in the Kenyan case substantial World Bank investment has recently brought about a rethink.

Governmental fears of such a strategy have been understandable to the extent that much of the concern of the donors and NGOs has been to develop organisations capable of lobbying for a more enabling environment in which the informal sector could operate. The flexible specialisation model points to a different role for networking, however. As we have already seen, it argues that the networking of small firms plays a vital role in their innovative advantage, through its facilitation of both cooperation and competition.

The sub-contracting networks of small enterprises provide another area in which both informal sector and flexible specialisation researchers have been active. A critical reading of the Northern literature and the African context suggests that it is not the quantity but the quality of such links that is important. Crucially, it indicates that the emphasis should be on discovering ways of ensuring that sub-contracting links enhance innovation and the pursuit of value-added rather than the minimisation of costs. Otherwise, there is a danger that flexibility becomes another word for exploitation.

Flexible specialisation literature also points to the importance of the clustering of small enterprises. Whilst this has happened across Africa, many of the sites of such conglomeration are either threatened by government plans for relocation or by other pressures and limitations. Several issues for research and policy arise in this area. What factors mark off innovative industrial districts from overcrowded “informal production ghettos”? How can existing, and relatively flourishing, sites of production concentration be assisted along the path towards becoming genuine industrial districts? Equally, questions of how to develop such sites from scratch need reappraisal. The spatial relationship between formal sector and informal sector industrial locations should also be explored in the light of the previous discussion of sub-contracting relationships.

This paper has identified the ability to innovate as a crucial element of the ability to compete. However, innovation itself must bear some relationship to the degree of access to certain types of tools and equipment. Whilst a survey of Suame Magazine in Kumasi has indicated a high level of power tool usage (Dawson 1991), the ability to buy or develop such tools appears to be very rare in Kenyan informal sector locations such as Gikomba (King 1996a). There have been many interventions which have sought to improve the quality and quantity of tools available to African producers across both the informal and agricultural sectors. The challenge for the future is to marry the traditional concerns of such interventions with the new concerns brought about by globalisation pressures.

With concerns about tools and other equipment come concerns regarding sources of capital. There is a huge and ever more sophisticated literature regarding the provision and management of credit. Much of this has shown that is possible to reach the poorest of the poor, in particular (e.g. Oketch et al 1991). Nonetheless, problems still remain in supporting innovative production and graduation of enterprise size through such mechanisms.3 Recently, attention has turned to the importance of savings as a means of generating capital for productive purposes (Havers 1995). This can be linked to a return to the broad Africanist research agenda of questions about the difficulties of capital accumulation by African entrepreneurs (Bayart 1993; Leys 1995). In countries such as Germany and Japan, both large and small firm innovative success has typically been linked to strong relationships with the banking system. The challenge remains to theorise and support appropriate mechanisms, whether of micro- or banking credit or of savings accumulation, through which the capital necessary for sustainable innovation can be generated in African contexts.

Other themes of informal sector research, such as access to raw materials and effective marketing, are also impinged upon by the globalisation debate. Raw material demands naturally will be shaped by the kinds of productive activities being engaged upon. Similarly, the nature of marketing is, at least in part, dependent upon the nature of the goods and services being produced. Here, the emphasis of flexible specialisation on networking and strong sub-contracting relationships appears to provide directions in which support could go.

The macro-economic and legal environments within which micro- and informal economic (MIE) activities take place have been the subject of considerable academic and policy attention in the past decade. Globalisation serves to reinforce such concerns as well as refocusing them towards the need to support innovation. In so far as a direct relationship may be postulated between graduation in firm size and innovative capability, concerns within the MIE sector regarding the impacts on firms of the visibility that comes with success (King 1996a) may be expected to act as a break on innovation. The emerging, innovative entrepreneur risks moving into the sphere of influence of the taxation system and other elements of the state bureaucracy. Where interventions must rely upon a degree of support from both invisible4 entrepreneurs and the state, such realities suggest major conflicts of interest.


The Changing Role of Education and Training Systems Globally

From soon after independence, African governments and researchers on African education and training systems have been concerned with the spectre of educated unemployment. As schooling (and enrolment at universities) has grown so the formal employment market has proved increasingly incapable of absorbing the numbers of new graduates. In the past this led to policy interventions of three principal types which are relevant to this paper. First, the informal sector was increasingly identified as being able to absorb the large, excess numbers of school leavers. Second, a range of training institutions was developed which sought to better prepare those leaving school with the skills needed in the formal sector work place. Third, there has been a trend to take the skill development process backwards into the school in order to ensure that all students receive a degree of preparation for work, otherwise not provided in the academic curriculum. The first of these questions has been addressed through the discussions of the previous section. The latter two questions will be addressed in this section.

Whilst education and training systems across Africa have been largely successful at the numbers game of increasing enrolments, most national systems are facing huge problems in the areas of finance, of quality and of staff morale. The apparent crisis of African education is in stark contrast to the huge national demands on the economic and societal fronts for an educated populace. Such demands and the inability of African learning systems to satisfy them are put in particularly stark relief by the emerging debate around notions such as the “clever country”. It seems that an Africa which failed to keep up with other continents in an old race is increasingly being forced to compete on ever less equal terms in a new and faster competition.

As noted earlier, it is argued that globalisation and the concomitant technological changes make human intellectual resources the chief competitive advantage (or disadvantage) of states in the ever more globalised market. The new technologies are argued to change the terrain upon which debates regarding education and training take place. At the core of this shift is the alleged obsolescence of the traditional distinctions between academic and vocational, between education and training (McGrath 1996a). As new technologies are superseded ever more rapidly, so technical skills are judged to be irrelevant in their traditional once-and-for-all form. Workers are now required to understand the systems behind the techniques so that they may adjust to new tools, machines and processes. As the boundaries and content of knowledge systems are changing so quickly, mastery of a single body of received knowledge is no longer meaningful. Instead, learners must learn how to access and interrogate ever expanding data sets. Both trends tend to undermine the education-training barrier and posit the need to develop knowledge and skills simultaneously.

All citizens and all workers require and acquire knowledge and skills. However, it is argued that there are certain forms and elements of knowledge and skills that are particularly valuable and valued in the new global system. Robert Reich, Labour Secretary in the Clinton administration, suggests that the “new work order”, like the ancién regime, will increasingly have three estates (Reich 1991). Two groupings form the base of the pyramid. First, the routine producers who are tied into low skill, low innovation, non-learning productive activities. Second, there are the in-person service providers, whose activities may be less routinised but are still low cost and low skill. At the top of the system come the third labour category: the symbolic analysts. These are the high skill workers who innovate, network and broker information.


The Future of African Education and Training

On the face of it the symbolic analyst category, in which Reich places such professionals as computer analysts, record producers, software engineers and advertisers, seems of little relevance to African realities, and particularly to the kind of trades for which the MIE sector is renowned. Nonetheless, these skills of innovation, networking and brokering do have resonances with the debates of this paper so far. For this reason, it is worth considering what Reich says about the education of the symbolic analyst.

He argues that the mass education system of the mass production era is inappropriate. In its place should come a system which stresses the following four skills: abstraction; system-thinking; experimentation; and collaboration. Reich sees such provision as costly and resource-intensive. The dissonance between symbolic analytic activities and those of the African MIE sector have already been highlighted. Nonetheless, it is worth considering whether these four strands might be important elements of a school-based intervention to promote learning to innovate and compete and, if so, how they could be supported in the current educational climate.

The argument that divisions between education and training have collapsed in the era of globalisation has led other learning theorists, as well a practitioners and policy makers, to argue for the need to reorganise learning systems to take account of this change. Instead of the binary systems of academic and vocational schools and qualifications which have developed across the globe, these theorists call for a unified education and training system (e.g. Finegold et al. 1990). A fully unified system, as is alleged to occur in New Zealand, is one in which academic and vocational distinctions are subsumed under an integrating philosophy which stresses the simultaneous pursuit of both skills and knowledge. In South Africa a less radical form of unification appears to be taking place through the new South African Qualifications Authority. Here, integration is more at the level of awards than philosophy. Whilst vocational and academic institutions and offerings still exist, there is a common award structure across all systems of learning (McGrath 1996a and b). Other countries are at earlier stages of such a development. In Kenya, for instance, the current challenge is to develop a National Training System, which, inter alia, will ensure a thorough-going integration of training qualifications.

These reforms have been informed by the debates surrounding globalisation. However, they have in the large part, even in South Africa and Kenya, been almost exclusively focused on formal education and training for formal employment. Questions remain, therefore, as to their appropriateness to the MIE sector and to the potentially innovative elements thereof. The MIE sector has historically been largely uncertified and qualifications have generally had minimal “street value”. In addition, there is still far too little knowledge of how such reformed learning systems act to transform low skill, low innovation economies into high skill, high innovation systems, or indeed if this is in fact possible (McGrath 1996a).

With the trend towards a greater standardisation of qualifications has come a shift towards modularisation. In the training arena, but increasingly in the education sector in the Anglophone world, this has been tightly linked to the use of competency-based approaches (Hayward 1996). Such systems are intended to bring flexibility to learning and to mark a shift away from static, knowledge-bound systems of learning (Burke 1989). This has seen a shift away from time and towards competence as the determinant of training (and latterly, education) completion. This clearly has much common-sense value. Nonetheless, the shift towards competency-based learning is characterised by its critics as leading to a narrow behaviourism and Taylorism (Hyland 1994) in which Reich’s symbolic analytic skills and the ability to innovate are absent.

These debates have resonance for education and training across Africa, and not just for South Africa where competency-based modular learning is clearly and powerfully on the agenda. The ability of both competencies and modules to deliver better quality learning in African contexts must be critically explored, and the extent to which the two are not necessarily part of the same package. In the context of the concerns of this paper, a further broad question must also be posited. Can competencies and modularisation enhance innovative potentials of learners? Beneath this question will come a need for disaggregation to explore the potentially different balance of arguments on this question across learning sub-systems. For instance, given their greater flexibility, could such approaches be more readily implementable in traditional apprenticeship systems than syllabus-based approaches? On the other hand, could the tendency towards bureaucratisation of national systems of modularisation be an unwelcome intrusion into the informality of learning in the MIE sector?

As in the case of Small Enterprise Development debates, such cutting edge concerns will inevitably sit alongside and impact upon better established controversies. One of the most resilient of these is what has been termed the “vocational school fallacy” debate after the seminal work of Phillip Foster (1968). A considerable body of evidence, much of it marshalled by the World Bank (e.g. Psacharopoulos and Loxley 1985), purports to show that vocational provision in the school is both costly and of limited effectiveness. This argument latterly has also been extended to the post-school public training system (Middleton et al. 1993; World Bank 1991). However, there continues to be criticism of this account (and its underlying methodology) by a number of scholars (e.g. Bennell 1996). Moreover, governments faced with continuing educated unemployment problems and an inheritance of vocational institutions (often initially recommended by the World Bank) have shown a marked reluctance to heed the anti-vocational orthodoxy.5

The World Bank position appears to receive both support and contradiction from a reading of the globalisation debate. On the one hand, a technical preparation which teaches static skills, without the underpinnings of theory and meta-learning that would allow flexible and innovative responses to future challenges, is shown to be inadequate. Equally, arguments about the necessity of a general education are reinforced. On the other hand, the World Bank’s tendency to conflate general and academic also is shown to be fallacious. The anti-vocational argument seems incapable of dealing with the shift from craft to design and technology that has been witnessed in a number of countries, as a response to globalisation fears. Moreover, the assumption that private providers alone can provide the bulk of required training seems even less plausible, when training is made more rigorous and costly.6 The growing impact of globalisation requires a new reading of these debates.

As the inability of African economies to generate formal sector, large firm employment has become ever more apparent, so governments, donors and academics have turned to a consideration of formal education and training’s ability to prepare its students for self-employment. This has taken a number of forms (McGrath and King 1995). In recent years, schools have been increasingly expected to provide both technical and attitudinal preparation for self-employment. Enterprise education has already become well established in Kenyan schools for instance and South Africa seems ready to move along a similar trajectory (Visser 1995). However, the arguments in favour of enterprise education in the school may be subject to similar criticisms as vocational education. Moreover, there appears to be a considerable time lag between school and self-employment (McGrath and King 1995). Attempts to change aspirations and attitudes to enterprise may also be strongly culturally, as well as economically, constrained, and, therefore, highly unlikely to succeed.

Reorientation of vocational training institutions towards self-employment has been a major concern in the late 1980s and 1990s (Grierson and McKenzie 1996). This has seen some moves towards a total reorientation towards entrepreneur development as in the case of MEDI in Malawi, whilst in other cases it has meant little more than additional enterprise skills courses being added to conventional vocational offerings (McGrath and King 1995). There has also been a strong tradition of NGO sector provision of enterprise development and this has continued to be important.

As noted already, the shift towards globalisation is also alleged to be a shift towards smaller enterprises. This would seem to be in harmony with the expansion of the above forms of provision. However, the discussion in this paper so far highlights a series of further considerations which do not seem so well addressed in the current trends. Globalisation and flexible specialisation do not lead to a privileging of the small firm per se. Rather, it is the small firm which is able to innovate that can gain a competitive advantage. The small modern firm of the “Third Italy” may be fundamentally better prepared for such innovation than the traditional small firm of much of Africa. Thus, specific schemes for the promotion of modern small firms may need to be considered as well as supports to the informal sector (Lall et al 1994).

Programmes of support and intervention in the small enterprise sector must take account of these considerations, particularly in their balancing of the technical, the managerial and the attitudinal elements of entrepreneurial development. Networking, brokering, problem-solving and innovating are all skills to be learned, whether one is in modern or enhanced-traditional small enterprises. However, it is far from clear that there is a well-developed body of knowledge as to the way that this can be done effectively.

Equally, the desirable balance regarding the acquisition of these skills in learning institution and in work is not certain. There is a potential danger too in conflating arguments for self-employment and those in favour of small firms. Whilst much rhetoric is directed at self-employment, the reality is that many MIE firms are made up of artisans, wage employees and apprentices. However, there seems to be a paucity of programmes directed at the second group or indeed at artisans as employers and trainers of the other groups. More attention needs to be directed towards these issues.

An important recent element of the African education and training debate, which is reinforced by the globalisation discourse, is the issue of institutional responsiveness. Both the notion of the learning organisation and the need to respond to rapidly changing economic and technological realities point to the importance of exploring the ways in which education and training institutions react to external stimuli. The need for such institutions to learn, to be flexible and to innovate is great, but the question of how to facilitate these needs poses immense research, policy and practical challenges. Therefore, the careful study of existing education and training institutions remains a central research priority.

African education and training institutions are often typified as failures in their traditional roles. Any attempt to expand into non-traditional roles, such as preparation for enterprise, cannot be anything but problematic and massively challenging. Nonetheless, it is important to face up to these challenges where they appear relevant. It is also essential to note that there are African success stories in the learning field and that every effort should be made to maintain, develop and replicate these.



There are still reasons for caution and scepticism in responses to globalisation and flexible specialisation discourses. Nonetheless, whatever, the degree of their validity, they provide a powerful set of new insights through which new research questions in education and training and small enterprise development can be generated. In particular, they point to a series of themes which are essential for policy makers, practitioners and researchers to consider when exploring current and future practice in these sectors. At this point,we will restress just four of these.

1. On-going learning both in formal learning institutions and in the workplace is identified as a key element of both personal development and the competitiveness of both the firm and the nation.

2. This is tied intimately to the notion of innovation. It is no longer enough to laud the improvisational genius of the informal sector. To this must be married an ability to see beyond immediate technical challenges and to grasp the underlying technological challenges.

3. As information becomes ever more central to success, so networking takes centre stage. A shift towards small enterprises as the engine of technological innovation and industrial growth would seem to be predicated in part on these organisations overcoming economies of large scale through their ability to cooperate.

4. Finally, for existing and future institutions involved in these sectors the challenge of becoming more responsive to their clienteles and to longer term technological and market trends is the core of success. It must be reflected not just in provision, but in marketing and feedback mechanisms.

Improvements in these four areas, and better practice across all the themes explored in this paper, cannot be assumed to guarantee that Africa will be able to compete successfully with currently more advanced countries. However, such improvements would seem to be an important, perhaps necessary, element of attempting to compete more effectively in an ever more hostile climate. Education, training and even work are not simply about economic performance and competitiveness, however. Many of the issues this paper begins to raise are also issues about quality of life and better learning provision which will impact on all dimensions of lived experience. The challenges are great but so are the opportunities for improvement.



1 The transnational corporation of course dates back to the period of colonialism (the Dutch East India Company, the Niger Company, etc.) and beyond. Equally, international capital flows are far from new; the late nineteenth century, for instance, exhibiting massive British investment in Argentina among other places (Edelstein 1981).

2 The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade and the World Trade Organisation.

3 Support for graduation does not imply a belief that “big is beautiful” (Pedersen 1996). There is, however, some evidence that firm size 11-50 is more efficient than size 1-10 (Ongile and McCormick 1996). In this case less small would appear to be more beautiful.

4 In the sense of being outside the reach of the state, particularly the taxation system.

5 Conversations with two South African provincial ministers of education (in May 1995 and Sptember 1996) indicate that the belief that more, not less, state vocational provision is needed continues to hold sway with politicians.

6 This is not to suggest that public training will not struggle to respond to such challenges. Rather, the point is that market failure is likely to be far greater under globalisation than the World Bank would appear to admit.



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