Post-school Education & Training (PSET)

The Strategic Objectives for Skills Development are Wrong

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    Hannes Nel

    Sylvia Hammond posted a report on Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa’s answers to questions in parliament last week. In my opinion the national skills development strategic objectives are wrong and they will achieve very little.

    Making an effort to improve the country’s skills base by focusing on science, technology and innovation makes good sense. Some experts might even feel that we should focus more on creating an interest in the subject fields amongst pupils at school. And yes, I agree that the large majority of pupils at school do not perform anything close to their intellectual potential. That is where my agreement with this initiative ends.

    There are many examples of countries that actually performed much better by just improving the general level of education of everybody in the country. South Korea is an example. There are just too many variables impacting on education and training to “force” all school children to improve their performance in just three subjects. And forget about increasing the number of them who will continue studying science, technology and innovation at university. The reality is that people do not have the same interests or intellectual abilities or, for that matter, environmental opportunities. A much more viable objective would be to identify the intellectual, physical, and mental strong points of each pupil as well as their interests and then giving each of them all the assistance and opportunities possible to achieve their full potential.

    The Deputy President said in parliament: “Less than 25% of students who enrol for a Bachelor of Engineering degree actually graduate. Now this is cause for concern.” The question in my mind is this – how will the percentage be increased? By making the curriculum easier, marking exam papers lighter, lowering the required exam mark? I hope none of these.

    It would be much more effective if only 10% of pupils perform exceptionally well in mathematics and science and continue studying them up to PhD level than if 70% pass the subjects in matric, just to fall out or become mediocre scientists after school.

    The Deputy President also said: “The National Development Plan calls for the percentage of PhD qualifications in the higher education sector to be increased from the current 34% to over 75% by 2030”. A PhD is not just another university course. It requires creativity, the ability to do high level research, the ability to add value on your own and immensely hard work. I recently spoke to a professor who boasts about the large number of PhDs that his university issue annually. The question, however, is how much value these PhDs add to the industry. What is the use of a qualification that is not worth the paper it is written on, or that has been largely written by somebody else, perhaps even the study leader.

    In closing, like the quality assurance bodies the Deputy Minister is chasing numbers when what we need is quality education and training. As it is higher education qualifications obtained from South African universities are regarded as worthless outside South Africa. The value of a qualification is not the piece of paper that you frame and hang on your office wall but rather the knowledge and skills that you bring to the workplace.

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    I concur with what you are advocating Hannes. Not enough emphasis is placed on ensuring a learner can read and write in their mother tongue and also have a good grounding in arithmetic – adding, subtracting etc and being able to comprehend arithmetical problems – please note I use the term arithmetic and not mathematics. A learner who has a good grasp of the 3 R’s can then be directed in the area of his/her interest/aptitude. Regrettably you have learners and even graduates exiting school/tertiary institutions who have difficulty writing coherently. This I experience in the work place on a regular basis.The focus in schools is on getting through the curriculum and quality is sacrificed in lieu of quantity. Learners are being educated to get a job and not for the world of work. Many Phd’s and qualifications are likely to become a thing of the past with the progress of artificial intelligence. All learning institutions need to examine their “business models” as most conventional classroom/lecture based tuition will become irrelevant.

    James O’Donoghue

    Hannes, I cannot agree with you more. The absurdities that we experience on a daily basis at one of our public universities would be laughable – if it was not so absolutely heart-breaking. In the end, we do not move forward at all. We only go by checklists with no understanding and comprehension of the underlying foundation of education. I have asked our librarian to obtain data from all post-graduate students’ theses that were borrowed from the collection. Of the several hundred “published” over the last two decades, only three (03) were consulted.

    Suzanne Hattingh

    Great article Hannes and comments by Kevin and James. Unfortunately you are speaking to the converted – and the powers that be won’t read this. The belief in numbers is deeply ingrained in Government and SETAs – and further entrenched in the B-BBEE model. So we keep churning out numbers and spend massive amounts keeping systems in place that do not develop the fundamental skills that enable young people to earn a meaningful income, and that are certainly not designed to equip the workforce for the workplace of 2020. In addition, the QCTO strategy is focusing skills development on occupations that will probably disappear in 5 years’ time, without a system for preparing the workforce for emerging occupations that are not registered on the OFO – and that will probably never be registered on the OFO because most new occupations won’t fit into the structure of the OFO. But we keep completing WSPs that few employers value, and spend hours importing statistics into templates that make SETAs happy, and SETAs produce reports based on information obtained from employers that is not verified. And so and so on … year after year … without concerted, critical engagement on organisational, sector and national level on the appropriateness of the system that should drive the skills revolution so urgently needed in our country. And we fail to heed warnings of Clem Sunter and other that we are failing to prepare the workforce for the future.

    Mark Pieterse

    Well put Hannes, I could not agree with more.

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