Quality education is vital and there’s need for a shift in nation’s mindset to appreciate the vast opportunities that lie in the vocational route, writes Ariellah Rosenberg.
Pretoria – The Minister of Education, Angie Motshekga, in delivering her budget to Parliament last week, announced the Grade 9 school exit plan, which introduces a school-leaving certificate for Grade 9 pupils. Motshekga anticipates that this “certificate would address unemployment and the country’s skills shortages”.
This has been substantiated over the past few years by the Grade 9 results in the Annual National Assessments.
Last year, Grade 9 pupils achieved on average 10.8 percent for maths, 48.3 percent for their home language and 34.4 percent for their first additional language.
How will the issuing of this certificate yield better results?
I am not totally opposed to the minister’s announcement, but there are points I think should be taken into consideration with regard to the Grade 9 exit plan.
Since 1994, the Department of Education has implemented many changes. For example, it has managed to increase the Grade 1 enrolment to nearly 100 percent, which is a remarkable achievement.
However, the quality of schooling is poor, as reflected by the Annual National Assessment results, international benchmarking and by our matric results.
South Africa is last in maths education in the world.
The 2008 plan to increase the number of teachers has been successfully implemented, but the quality of entrants into the profession is a cause for concern, as has been pointed out in research published by the Centre for Development and Enterprise in “Teachers in South Africa: Supply and Demand 2013-25”.
If we keep compromising on the quality of education we will continue getting mediocre and below-average outputs.
There is no doubt that, first and foremost, the Department of Education has to ensure that these first nine years of schooling are of a high quality, providing good resources and sound teacher training.
But let’s take it one step further
Looking at the top-performing countries in education, Finland ranks as one of the best. Finland has only nine compulsory years of schooling, but has been one of the role models for quality in education, placed top in international benchmarking assessments, such as the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (Timms) and the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa).
This, however, is not where it ends.
In Finland, after nine years of basic education, a pupil, at the age of 16, may select one of two paths, to continue their secondary education on an academic track, or choose a vocational track.
Many countries in the world, where ORT schools operate successfully, implement this type of system and are able to offer vocational routes to their pupils.
In France, for example, ORT high schools meet the dynamic needs of the job market by offering qualification in optics, banking, informatics and other fields.
In the former Soviet Union, ORT has established more than 20 vocational training schools and colleges in countries such as Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.
This places ORT as a leader in delivering career-oriented training in this region.
In December, the Centre for Development and Enterprise published a presentation by Ricardo Hausmann, a Harvard economist, who has been leading an intensive study of the South African economy.
One of the recommendations Hausmann makes is for a higher rate of job creation.
He suggests that due to its significant skills constraints, the country should aim to shift from non-tradable sectors, such as tourism, finance, construction, retail, wholesale and transport, which require highly skilled professionals, to tradable sectors, producing things that are exportable, such as mining, agriculture and manufacturing.
If we were to adopt this recommendation, we would develop a vocational path that would focus on the needs of the market and improve the economy.
It would be a win-win, as it would also reduce the rate of unemployment and increase the labour force.
The exit plan presented by the minister means that those Grade 9 pupils who leave the system at this level would not follow the academic stream for the National Senior Certificate. These pupils could choose from among 26 skills and vocational subjects offered by technical schools that have been upgraded or technical and vocational education colleges.
We should look at this proposal by the minister in a different light – perhaps the approach to this plan should be different.
In my view, any Grade 9 pupil, from whatever social background, should be able to make this choice, based on his or her competency and interest, whether they will follow the academic or vocational route. If a pupil chooses a vocational path it should not be perceived as a poor choice.
This requires a change in the mindset of the nation.
Most South Africans perceive the academic route as the most prestigious and fulfilling path to follow. We should all respect the opportunities that lie in the vocational route.
The vocational path should be appreciated and advocated, as South Africa has a huge shortage of people with these specialised skills.
Both routes should be valued and invested in. Vocational training providers should be upgraded so they offer top quality education and training.
As Hausmann concludes in the Centre for Development and Enterprise report: “South Africa needs skills, and it needs a clear strategy, co-ordinated across many sectors of the state and the economy.
“Only then will the country grow and create jobs that will reduce inequality and eradicate poverty.”
Education is the most important vehicle to reduce poverty and unemployment. It will grow the labour force and provide equality.
If we want to improve the economy and enhance education, there should be a common vision – by all role-players, and not silos, or policies declared sporadically – to ensure pupils receive quality education, ensuring that, whatever their school exit level, they leave literate and numerate.
Article by:- iol News