South African Vision Session: Overview

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Summary of workshop discussions

What follows is a description of the key issues and points raised during the discussions amongst participants in the workshop.

The discussion was facilitated by Jim Playfoot, following a brief presentation of the findings from the recently published report: Effective Education for Employment: A Global Perspective.

Two key statements can be drawn from the discussions:

  • We need to make curricula and skills development responsive to changing industry needs
  • We need to introduce work ready skills and behaviours into all levels of education design

The summary within this section represents the varied input of participants over the course of the session, as a background to the development of a set of key Vision statements.


Improving the status of vocational education

  • A move from 150 technical to 50 FET (further education and training) colleges has seen a change from a "3 month to a 3 year curriculum" in South Africa which has brought with it a set of associated problems. One participant noted that as a result of this change "we have youngsters coming through a high level, nationally benchmarked curriculum which industry considers outdated". Concerns were expressed that the new curriculum "has been shoved down industry's throat, they weren't consulted properly. The present system is not designed for apprenticeships or skills development programmes."Participants were sympathetic regarding the bewildering amount of choice available to young people; "the scope for kids is so large; how can you know what you want to do?" School leavers are not guided in the choices they need to make in continuing education.
  • However, for this very reason most were not too worried about students coming out of Vocational education with a National Certificate Vocational (NCV) qualification and not being employable, stating that having a "broader base in your educational approach is good." This opinion was qualified with the belief that such education must be supplemented with practical workplace experience, with one participant expressing concern that "the problem is very few colleges in South Africa have the capacity to provide this".
  • There is a real need to set up the right partnerships in South Africa so long term paths for training/careers can be set out,which is yet to be addressed. The concept of 'transportability' in the mid 90's created the opportunity for students to move from one area of certification to another, carrying through credits. However, walking out with a NCV certificate from an FET college doesn't get you a job. As one participant put it, "that guy walking out with a certificate is not a plumber yet".

Learning from international best practice

  • Participants felt that much could be learned from the UK where schools have links with FET colleges, helping guide children in their career; "We can feed industry with artisans who have a bind with what they want to become."
  • German industry training was described as really "first world" compared to South Africa. South Africa needs to aspire to and learn from the German system.
  • Participants noted that Australia has struggled with very similar problems to South Africa and has found some solutions. "Educational institutions are beginning to draw people away from pure academia and make vocational education sexy. They go to industry first, ask what is needed, and then train people in those skills."
  • The challenge starts at primary school as students are less equipped with basic literacy than they once were. "There is a huge problem with where we are at the moment. The drop out rate from the vocational system is due to not having gone through proper education at school level." Some FET sector colleges are left with 20 per cent of their original intake in certain courses.

Improving the quality of apprenticeships

  • Fears were expressed that "colleges are supposed to be the vehicle for apprenticeship schemes but the wheels have fallen off." With NCVs (National Certificate Vocational) the focus is too theoretical; very little practical work is done. After someone has gone through an apprenticeship, what happens after that? It was felt that colleges have to focus on setting up partnerships with industry, if they want to win the skills race. In South Africa, as one participant put it "we really hope this merger with industry will take place."
  • As an apprentice, there are no mentors that help students phase into industry. Even medical doctors often don't have skilled mentors to guide them.
  • On a more hopeful note, the design of Learnerships, a South African apprenticeship model, is now built through consultation with industry rather than academia.

Finding quality teachers

  • It was noted that getting a quality workforce is becoming increasingly difficult because "teaching is not sexy".
  • Furthermore, staff members have been leaving further education colleges because some lecturers earn a smaller salary than school teachers.
  • Concern was also expressed over "the lack of skilled lecturing staff". A number of teacher training colleges have been shut down and there has been a 10 year vacuum in which many teachers haven't been trained properly. A problem has developed with excellent experts who don't know how to teach. Participants fear that there is a lack industry mentors in South Africa.

Improving soft and professional skills

  • A lack of soft skills, such as etiquette in the workplace, communication and dealing with people is a huge problem in
    South Africa. One participant noted that "we are not teaching skills, we are ticking off outcomes."
  • Some examples of best practice were given: "We are on the right track and are verifying what you at Edexcel are doing, working with credits through the national qualification framework and setting up a system which involves students submitting a portfolio in the place of examinations."