Menu Close

Modernise education system to equip the youth

Add to my bookmarks
ClosePlease login

No account yet? Register

Share This Article:

Picture: Timothy Bernard/African News Agency (ANA)/Taken September 2, 2022 – The Streets of Braamfontein are painted Blue and yellow by the Wits University Students, alumni and staff. as the Johannesburg-based institution celebrates 100 years. Around 3000 participants walked the 3km celebratory route with floats, stilt walkers, giant characters and Braam stakeholders forming part of the parade.

By Hendrick Makaneta

This year marks 47 years since the youth of 1976 took to the streets to demand better education. Since then, there have been many developments which led to the ushering in of the democratic dispensation, which some refer to as the 1994 democratic breakthrough.

Perhaps we should applaud the government for making great strides to ensure that the doors of learning remain open for most students, particularly those from impoverished communities. There is no doubt that access to universities has improved in the past 29 years. To date, the country has produced more black graduates than the apartheid regime.

However, there are still challenges that must be resolved, especially when it comes to education outcomes within higher education. The fact that many graduates do not graduate in the allotted time speaks volumes about the nature and character of the terrain of higher education, which remains highly contested, almost 30 years into democracy.

The performance of students from impoverished communities is well documented. One study found that five out of 12 students graduate with a degree in the minimum period and that almost 25 percent of them drop out of the system in their first year of study.

Given the state of affairs concerning poverty and underdevelopment, it is clear that the existing middle strata – the middle class – also find it difficult to survive, especially when it comes to being able to afford the exorbitant fees for higher education. While the middle class can afford basic education, the same cannot be said about the costs to study at universities and for other aspects of life.

The problem is further exacerbated by the fact that those who come from schools in poor communities often must double their efforts to be on par with their peers from schools in affluent areas. We need to find ways to address the skewed state of basic education in the country and to level the playing field so that access to higher education is improved. This means that we must make a radical shift towards a modernised education system that will not only equip students with a certificate but also knowledge.

We need a knowledgeable cohort of graduates who will not wait for jobs but take practical steps to create jobs for themselves and their peers. On the flip side, we should be concerned as a nation, that youth unemployment has reached alarming proportions. The unemployment rate persists despite the large numbers of youth leaving Grade 12 with matric certificates, unlike school leavers in the 1960s. But also of concern is that there are high drop-out rates in the education system, particularly in basic education.

Although mechanisms have been suggested for the three-stream model that is supposed to cater for learners with different abilities, it would appear that a lot of focus is still on academic performance rather than vocational skills. This is seen every year when the Department of Basic Education celebrates the matric pass rate across the nine provincial departments. The time has come for the government to move with the necessary speed to modernise the education system, to ensure that our youth can craft a future for themselves and to compete with the best in the world.

The government, acting in collaboration with civil society and the private sector, has to tilt the balance of forces in favour of especially the poor and those that are marginalised from the mainstream economy of South Africa. Perhaps we should also acknowledge efforts made by some within the government, especially Gauteng Premier Panyaza Lesufi, who has demonstrated the willingness in practice to fight unemployment head-on by creating jobs for the youth.

Other provinces should emulate Lesufi. The other challenge that should be eradicated is the skills mismatch problem that affects mainly the young people who graduate from tertiary institutions. The reality is that some of the courses offered by our institutions of higher learning are no longer relevant for the future. Most of the jobs that exist today will become obsolete in the future, and this means that if we continue along the current trajectory, the unemployment rate will continue to skyrocket.

During this difficult period of unemployment, one is reminded of the words of Moses Kotane when he said to the youth: “At this hour of destiny, your country and your people need you. The future of South Africa is in your hands, and it will be what you make of it.” Kotane’s words are as relevant today as they were when he spoke them. The youth of South Africa should assume the responsibility to actively craft a future that will work for themselves and their peers.

Hendrick Makaneta is an education activist completing an LLB degree at the University of Pretoria