Cape Town - The effects of South Africa’s failing education system are increasingly being felt by companies which are unable to find the personnel they need to ensure continued growth.
Of the over 200 South African companies participating in a recent survey, 80 percent indicated they were experiencing a skills crisis and many of these show considerable reliance on external expertise. Adcorp recently published that over 800 000 high-skilled positions, over a wide range of occupations, are currently unfilled in South Africa.
In the Department of Basic Education’s latest policy proposal, minister Angie Motshekga intends to extend school hours in order to include another African language in the syllabus. The issue, however, does not seem to lie in increasing the learning quantity; it is teaching and syllabus quality that is lacking. The problem is much larger than the need for a third language at school, but Motshekga seems to have missed the point yet again.
Equal Education has been fighting for three years to get Motshekga to agree to its Fix Our Schools campaign, which calls for minimum norms and standards for schools in order to make them safe places for learning. More than one in five South African pupils have reported violent victimisation at school, with seven out of nine provinces showing higher than this average.
“How are children meant to learn when many of them do not have proper ablution facilities in schools?” says Adam Sack of Equal Education. “How can knowledge creation be the goal of the government if 22 938 schools do not have stocked libraries, while 19 541 do not even have a space for a library?” That a minister needs multiple petitions, letter-writing, marches to Parliament and, finally, litigation just to agree to create safe, healthy and learner-friendly environments in schools suggests that quality education is not a top priority.
South Africa has a national unemployment rate of 25.6 percent, its highest in the past two years. If you add those unemployed but not currently looking for work (possibly having given up), and those employed part-time as nothing full-time is available, it jumps to a deeply disturbing 36.8 percent. Only 40 percent of South Africans aged 20 to 34 have a job. In the Western Cape, a government survey found 10 percent of youths over 14 to be illiterate. In Cape Town alone, 199 231 were neither educated nor employed.
Lack of adequate schooling feeds the unemployment bubble and increases the push towards criminal acts to ensure survival. It’s not surprising, then, that South African crime rates are among the highest in the world. In the Western Cape alone, it is estimated that almost one in three youths are, or have been, in trouble with the law. According to the Social Policy Research Group, affirmative action policies in the labour market will always be limited by a school system that fails to provide sufficient skills. The PSP Icon survey indicated that many companies are, therefore, turning to external assistance to meet skills requirements where positions remain unfilled.
“We need to get our basics right in the school system,” says Sack. Research has shown that just one year of quality preschool is associated with higher achievement in Grade 6. It’s a knock-on effect. If educational quality were to improve; universities would be in less of a scramble to create first-year bridging programmes. And in the long run, this would provide stronger graduates on all levels, more skills in the labour pool and more positions filled in companies that are currently struggling to find adequate skilled staff.
Germany’s approach to skills needs and unemployment has been to make use of a high number of apprenticeships that begin at school level. Pupils take classes, learn a skill, are paid and complete high school in the process.
As the government wanders slowly around a national playground of trial and error, pupils are finding themselves ill-equipped for life in a modern, industrial and technologically sophisticated world. Some fight to catch up, but many do not and, as time rolls on, never will. They join the ranks of unemployed or the shadow economy of crime. Companies unable to find the skilled personnel they need to perform efficiently take on workers from other countries (fuelling xenophobia) or hire consultants.
It’s good news for consultants but bad news for ordinary citizens who believed in the Freedom Charter and dreamed of a better life. And for the economy, which relies on people with money to spend.
* Romaney Pinnock is trained as a geneticist and has a Master’s in biodiversity, specialising in ecotoxicology. She currently works as a management consultant for PSP Icon.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.