Economic empowerment or equal access to job opportunities for all South Africans - few would disagree - starts with achieving and maintaining quality education across rural and urban divides and across all areas from the most affluent to the most impoverished.

At the same time opportunities to learn a skill, gain experience and embark on a career path need to be available to absorb school leavers and inspire young people with both achievable and outlandish goals. Black economic empowerment, no matter how well intended, cannot produce what quality education can in the long term.

Transforming education and equalizing opportunity is in many hands - government, the private sector, communities and parents. One of the big challenges is also the managing of the necessary tensions between unions and employers in the sector. Cooperation on both sides is a must as the education of learners cannot be sacrificed on this alter.

Interestingly South Africa spends 2% more on education than the average for upper-middle-income countries globally, although less than Botswana and Namibia. The problem does not therefore seem to be money as much as it is - bad management, lack of accountability and a general instability.

Instead of discouraging private education and home schooling - government should be encouraging and supporting these initiatives - providing positive regulations to facilitate their success and expansion in order to relieve the burden on public schools. A number of studies in South Africa support the notion that private schools can and should play a positive and complementary role in providing accessible quality education. Private universities should also play an important role. Currently, 50 000 Grade 12 school-leavers who qualify for university cannot get a place in the country’s public universities and - if properly managed - private universities can help fill that gap.

The ACDP calls on government to facilitate this process by supporting the Council for Higher Education, which is responsible for the accreditation of both public and private higher education institutions. This would require an amendment to the Higher Education Act which precludes any institution from calling itself a university without permission from the higher education minister.

Another serious consideration is the fact that equal access will necessitate the adoption and advancement of a single language (English) as the medium for secondary and tertiary education, and of formal communication in all sectors, in all public-funded education institutions, and in government. Of course, resources must be provided for primary school education to prepare learners adequately to participate in further education on an equal footing. Translation and language services across all spheres of education and public life will also be necessary for many years to come. This does not mean that institutions that wish to pursue other languages for teaching and education should be prevented from doing so.

The ACDP agrees that while education should focus on the natural and practical sciences - after Grade 8 it should include vocational training and skills that align education with the knowledge and skills needed for an economy that has an expanding manufacturing and services sector.

There is no question that South Africa needs to increase access to vocational training and apprenticeship programmes and with this in mind the ACDP agrees that vocational training must become the official ‘developmental mandate’ of all large state-owned companies. The ACDP supports calls for government, business and labour to prioritize and create at least 1 million internships in order to bring more young people into the labour market. Nationally, the dropout rate between grades 10 and 12 is 44.6% – or 490 000 young South Africans who give up. Only 30.2% of pupils who registered for Grade 10 in 2014 passed Grade 12 in 2016.

Currently government is underfunding technical and vocational education and training (TVET) colleges yet vocational training should be the major career path for most South Africans in secondary education. Our young people deserve better!


20 November 2018