Having celebrated Freedom Day, exercise your right to continue to learn

Eloise Nolte. Supplied image.

Eloise Nolte. Supplied image.

Published May 1, 2023


By Eloise Nolte

Freedom Day in South Africa is a time when we reflect on how far we’ve come as a society since the advent of democracy. Naturally, many people will look at where we are from an education point of view.

Fundamental to our freedom to learn is our right to education, which is enshrined in the Constitution. But what if we could amend this right to education to be slightly more specific? What if we could reinforce — to the government, to the private sector, and to learners themselves — that “everyone has the right to a basic education, including adult basic education, at any stage in their learning journey”.

Education doesn’t take place only within a set timeframe: seven years of basic education, five years of high school, three to four years of tertiary. This perception, so widely carried, is limiting. For learners whose education journey is disrupted along the way by any one of a myriad of factors, it can instil a sense of defeat. “I failed Grade 10, that’s it, I’ll never finish matric” or “I didn’t finish matric, I’ll never qualify for a job that requires it.”

The reality is quite different. A hiatus in one’s studies doesn’t signify the end. There are several opportunities available to learners and young adults who want to have the qualifications they need to further their studies or careers. No matter what stage you’re at in your learning journey, you can always return, and continue.

The perceptions learners carry — and the reality

It’s only fair that learners feel hamstrung when they fail or are forced to take a break from their studies. So many experience barriers to entry when they look for alternatives — but alternatives exist.

One perception is that, once you fail matric, it’s almost impossible to repeat it. The amended senior certificate (ASC), however, is available to all learners who don’t have a matric and who are 21 years or older. There is only one exam a year, which complicates the process as you’ll have to wait a full year if you don’t secure a spot, but you should get a place if you make it a priority. Optimi College is also lobbying for there to be two ASC exams a year and, in time, our hope is that the current situation will change.

A second common perception is that a university degree is the best, or indeed the only, qualification to have. This certainly isn’t the case, and there are any number of technical and vocational educational and training institutions and colleges that offer well-regarded certificates in a wide variety of disciplines.

Furthermore, there are many Quality Council for Trades and Occupations qualifications that don’t even require a matric.

Digital courses are also widely available, and have significantly improved access to education. Through online programmes, learners can study when it suits them best, and in conjunction with either part-time or full-time work, which can improve their chances of success. The options available through Optimi College, include technical, commerce and IT training in a vast selection of valuable, sought-after qualifications.

Where does the responsibility lie?

Whose responsibility is it, then, to improve access to education and make it available at any stage in the learning journey?

There’s no doubt that public-private partnerships are critical. South Africa’s education system is not immune to the many issues that affect the country. The fact that so many learners go to school hungry, to be taught by poorly trained and overwhelmed teachers in schools that often don’t have power, points to the interconnectedness of South Africa’s multi-faceted, deep-rooted, and systemic problems. Government cannot address these issues alone, private sector involvement is essential.

But some responsibility, at least, also rests with learners themselves. If you’re wanting to further your education — to complete matric, to study towards a tertiary qualification, or to complete a course required for an internship or job — the information you need to know is out there.

Do some research, attend career days in your area, or speak to local businesses about their hiring practices and community development programmes. Be careful of bogus colleges and universities that aren’t properly registered. Make sure you apply to organisations that can offer a valid registration number that can be confirmed by the Department of Higher Education and Training.

You have the right to put yourself first, and to re-enter the world of education even if you’ve taken a break. If you need to, ask for support along the way. Organisations like Optimi College can help you get there.

Eloise Nolte is the MD of Optimi College, a division of the Optimi Group, one of South Africa’s leading education and training providers.

The Saturday Star