Education: the most crucial tool of all

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Education is not only a fundamental right for all, but the ultimate avenue for labour and employment, a tool for poverty reduction, the cornerstone of any economy, particularly in a new knowledge economy – and thus the most important tool to promote peace and sustainable development in our country.

As we celebrate the fifth anniversary of the National Development Plan 2030 (NDP), it is important to consider how education impacts on human development in all its forms.

Our education system has been criticised for not fulfilling its supposed role to provide well skilled graduates capable of working in the local labour market.

Every year thousands of people leave the education system as graduates with certificates, diplomas and degrees. Others simply drop out of the system to look for jobs in the overcrowded labour market.

Indeed, every year there are the frequently asked questions Are the new graduates from our universities and universities of technology qualified enough to enter the labour market and find a suitable job? How can our educational system be linked to the local labour market?

The NDP wants 11 million more jobs to be created by 2030, the labour-intensive manufacturing and export sectors need to be expanded, money has to be allocated to key infrastructure projects as an enabler for job creation and the quality of education and skills development is crucial and ownership of production should be less concentrated and more diverse.

Nelson Mandela said: “Rhetoric is not important. Actions are.” Complementing this is the opening line of the NDP: Our Future, Make It Work.

The NDP aims to uplift the country’s education system in line with international norms. For example, before 1990, less than a quarter of black pupils completed matric. In 2012, this figure was close to two-thirds.

According to the NDP, by 2030 between 80-90% of pupils should complete 12 years of schooling and or vocational education.

The goal is to also increase enrolment at universities by at least 70%. Some of the ways in which these goals can be achieved is by improving the infrastructure at poor schools in rural areas and improving the competency of teachers and principals. These initiatives will go some way towards uplifting and promoting the quality of the country’s educational system.

What is everyone’s role in making the NDP to work? There are a number of initiatives where the government has already commenced work on different aspects of the NDP.

To support the NDP, the Gauteng department of education (GDE) is implementing a five-year 10 pillar education programme consisting of curriculum and assessment development to improve on pupils’ performance across the province, teacher provisioning and support to strengthen and solidify the direct support to teachers by using coaches, leadership and management for educators to take responsibility of their functions in supporting schools and ensuring resources to schools are provided timeously.

Also on the agenda:

• Infrastructure development so that norms and standards for infrastructure are implemented and monitored;

• Planning, finance and providing the provision of resources where needed;

• Information communication and technology in education to assist teachers in curriculum delivery;

• Social cohesion to ensure that a non-racial education system is a fundamental driver and all pupils have equal and fair access to any public school in the province;

• School functionality including community Involvement;

• Skills development to address the skill needs of the economy and access to quality early child development.

It is heartening that different sectors from society have formed partnerships and alliances to make the NDP work.

The government and business are also engaged in meaningful dialogue on how the business sector can contribute to the implementation of the NDP.

Indeed, the NDP 2030 provides public and private sector as well as society at large, this unique opportunity to jointly plan, deliver and implement a new South Africa. Everyone has a role to play in the NDP.

One of GDE’s 10 pillars, childhood development (ECD) needs special mention.

As a foundation of the NDP, the GDE has established the Early Childhood Development Institute (ECDI), a directorate within the Gauteng department of education, to provide support and ensure that early childhood development services are rendered in an integrated manner throughout province.

The importance of pre-school education, as distinct from the broader early childhood development that includes children up to age three, tends to be accepted across the board in educational circles.

Early childhood development requires a multi-sectoral approach with collaboration between health, education, social development, and civil society.

The roles of the ECDI are, to conduct mapping, monitoring and feedback for increased access and quality early child development services, provide information to the public at multiple levels through various platforms and conduct research and evaluations for ECD services.

We need to build public awareness about the importance of early childhood development. Families can benefit most from this knowledge, changing the way they care for their children.

It is important to recognise the importance of children’s earliest experiences with formal learning in setting their academic trajectory. High-quality early childhood programmes give young children a strong start in lifelong learning. When made accessible to all, they also help strengthen social equity.

Early childhood is defined as a period from birth to eight years old. It is time of remarkable brain development, but also a vulnerable time for young children, especially in our country, where a child has a high chance of living in extreme poverty to die from preventable diseases every year.

A person’s education determines the level of employability. But more notably, in the current labour market demands, the nature of the education system has become a major point of concern as employers are interested in people who have the skills that are compatible with the job demands in terms of skills.

At GDE, we have long recognised that the need for sufficient workers with different skills can be met only if education at institutions provides both academic and vocational education for students.

General education, as provided by normal high schools and colleges, cannot meet all the demands of the fast-changing labour market.

Vocational education, on the other hand, offers an alternative institutional arrangement to effectively combine work with academic education and thus meet the demand for skilled and highly-skilled workers.

Technical education is believed to be the answer. It can contribute to achieving comprehensive development programmes adopted by the government.

That is why in Gauteng we are establishing Schools of Specialisation to focus on both theory and practical learning required in various fields of science learning.

The Schools of Specialisation form part of our programme of Reorganisation of Schools to change public education in order to build a single integrated schooling system that overcomes past inequalities.

Our aim is to address the critical skills shortage in our country. The school’s facilities will also be made available to nearby schools.

In these schools, pupils will be given workplace exposure and career guidance to prepare them for the workplace or institutes of higher learning such as technikons,

Further Education and Training and universities.

These schools will increase skills development and help us deliver an empowered Gauteng through transformations, modernisation and re-industrialisation.

They are distinct from normal public schools because they have a strong technical and vocational content. Pupils are given work place exposure and career guidance in their chosen fields to prepare them for the transition to work or pursue higher training.

The first of 27 schools to be refurbished and opened during the next two years was The Curtis Nkondo School of Specialisation in Soweto.

It will focus on engineering, mathematics and science, ICT, commerce, entrepreneurship as well as performing and creative arts and sports.

Of the 27 schools, 11 will be for mathematics, science and ICT, seven for engineering, four for commerce and entrepreneurship, three for performing and creative arts and two for sports.

Through the NDP, the South Africa of today will look vastly different in 2030. The economy will be more inclusive, more dynamic and in which the fruits of growth are shared equitably.

The NDP cannot be achieved and delivered by the government alone, but requires a joint collaborative approach by public, private and non-governmental sectors together with citizen participation and involvement.

Panyaza Lesufi is Gauteng MEC for education

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