New education plan a ray of hope

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Jubilant students embrace after learning that they have passed their matric exams. Afterpassing Grade 12, a number of young people do not know what they need to do, says the writer. File photo: Boxer Ngwenya

The White Paper on post-school education provides solutions for youth who need knowledge and skills, says Vuyisile Msila.

Johannesburg - The White Paper for Post-School Education and Training raised hopes for thousands of both in- and out-of-school youth. There are many young people who drop out before Grade 12 and end up swelling the ranks of the unemployed with no hope for a better future with improved life chances.

Research is proving that young people who are not in school and not employed are likely to lead unproductive lives, sometimes even engaging in drug abuse and criminality. In his speech at the University of South Africa last month, Minister of Higher Education Blade Nzimande set out a good plan of action for further training.

Among other proposals, and perhaps the most crucial, Nzimande spelt out that there was a need to orientate educational institutions towards the masses, because more than 3.4 million youth between the ages of 15 and 24 are not employed, not studying and not acquiring any skills that will enable them to participate in the country’s economy.

Many young people are affected by poverty and are trapped in squalor. The White Paper delivered by Nzimande perceives education as the levelling factor in any society, and hopes to develop a strong and meaningful post-school education system that will open up opportunities for South African youth. Of course, there are many young people who roam the streets of our cities with no idea what they can do to earn an income, because they come from an education system that never prepared them fully for independence and entrepreneurship.

For these young people, education has never prepared them well for the realities of life. After dropping out before Grade 12 or even passing Grade 12, a number of young people do not know what they need to do. To some, when they can’t go to university, they regard themselves as having arrived at a dead end. They fail to explore other possible avenues, such as technical schools and self-employment.

However, the sad fact is that scores of youth who have just come out of school know they might not be employable. It is then admirable that the White Paper recognises the various contexts that need to be acknowledged if post-school training is going to address the young people’s needs effectively.

The White Paper is also an initiative whose core debate was started by the National Development Plan and the Green Paper.

Among others, the National Development Plan highlighted the need to simplify our qualifications and quality assurance framework. It also acknowledged that various primary bodies who have a role in quality assurance need to be strengthened. Furthermore, the Green Paper underscored the need for collaboration between various government departments, such as trade and industry, public service and administration, basic education, and science and technology, as well as labour.

The White Paper could not have come at a better time. There are countless youths who are not working, who believe that there is deliberate marginalisation of the poor by their government. Having no work makes these young people maintain that they have been betrayed by the education system out of which they have come. Unfortunately, some of these beliefs can lead to social instability, which is detrimental to the country’s economy. However, if the White Paper’s ideals are realised, they will address some of the imbalances that led to the sad state of affairs for the unemployed youth.

The minister pointed out a number of important aspects in his speech. First, greater recognition is to be given to public colleges or community colleges to ensure that these institutions get the same recognition that other higher education institutions have. Moreover, not only will these colleges accommodate young people, they will also accept older people. Second, the White Paper aims to address the funding of the marginalised, who usually find accessing post-school institutions impossible. The White Paper also emphasises the need to improve the skills of those already employed.

The introduction of post-school distance education will also encourage people who are in remote areas where there are no institutions of higher learning. Open learning strategies will enable all those who want to be in post-school institutions to do so without needing to travel to big cities.

Lastly, and maybe most importantly, the White Paper comments on the prioritisation of youth with disabilities to ensure universal physical access to higher education infrastructures and facilities. The minister emphasised that allocation to post-school institutions will be based on whether disability would be addressed as priority, and whether capacity existed. This could be a groundbreaking blueprint that the country has always needed if its primary education and training goals can be attained.

Various role-players, though, need to play their part. Starting from basic education, good schools should instil a sense of the need to develop skills and knowledge. If young people at school do not have effective teaching that demonstrates the crucial role of skills, after passing matric or dropping out of school, they might not be motivated to go back to any form of post-school training. Furthermore, stereotypes need to be dispelled in our young people, who might feel unfulfilled if they have not gone to a university. There are many skills that the country currently requires, and some of these can’t be found in universities. Young people need to be aware of the strengths of various institutions like technical and community colleges.

The model adopted by colleges also needs to accommodate teaching in indigenous languages. The language issue will always surface in discussions about any transformation in education. Arguably, students would gain much more from education if they could learn in their mother tongue.

Language is a powerful determinant of educational success, and a factor that can make the difference between effective and ineffective post-school training. Institutions should begin speaking the language that students speak. One is also certain that the post-school training will not only prepare the youth to be employed by others, but will prepare them to attain the skills needed to be self-employed and also employ others.

The vision set out in the White Paper instils hope for the future of the country for coming decades. The document is based on sound principles and well thought-out strategies. We all hope it heralds a new lease of life for the many despondent young people who feel left out by society.

All these good intentions, though, need to be communicated well to all stakeholders. As stated above, schools should play a crucial role in this regard. Young people in schools should be aware of their options after school. In hundreds of schools, the young people drop out with no future prospects other than to continue the cycle of poverty.

The minister in some ways is combating this, trying to make education a factor that will benefit all. With this plan on track, our students’ achievements should be comparable with the best countries in the next decade.

In addition, soon the public should also be able to regain confidence in public education, as well as transformation. Little can go wrong when all stakeholders are meaningfully involved in shaping educational policy and South Africa’s future.

* Vuyisile Msila is a professor at the University of South Africa’s College of Education. He writes in his personal capacity.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.

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