A new business of education

For most youngsters, deciding on a career path is a daunting process. With little self-knowledge and even less experience of the world, it’s no surprise that figuring out a future is a terrifying prospect.

Add to this financial constraints and an education system that is yet to clearly align itself with the world of work, and it’s little wonder that a scary 70% of the unemployed in South Africa is made up of the youth.

A recent development that could make all the difference to this sorry picture arrived quietly in May on the education scene: the official launch of the 50 Further Education and Training (FET) colleges. This brings to an end the first phase of the project, begun in 2001, to reconfigure the 152 old Technical Colleges into these new institutions.

What was remarkable about the launch of the FET colleges last month was that it was attended by an impressive list of dignitaries not only from the Department of Education, but also from the Department of Labour and representatives from business.
Their presence is exactly what the vision for FET colleges is all about: to meet through one process both the school-leavers’ need to be employable and our nation’s human resource needs in order to develop socially and economically.

One area that needs to be considered in this, though, gets to the very heart of what ‘education” is really about. Is it enough to know a nut from a bolt — but have scant knowledge of history, geography, philosophy? It’s an ongoing debate being chewed over in many countries, and one that our own FET quality assurer, Umalusi, is going to have to get their teeth into.

As always, the snag is taking an excellent idea and making it a working reality. And there truly is a mountain to climb to achieve this: getting all parties moving in the same direction while creating accessible programmes that fit neatly into the National Qualifications Framework is a Herculean task to be tackled by us mere mortals.

But it’s an effort that’s well worth making. A comment by Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu on the occasion of the FET colleges launch says it all: ‘Our future lies in our young people and their hard work must bear the fruit of the means to support themselves and their families and thus contribute to the sustainable development of our country.”

The welding of business, labour and education structures into a common framework and vision could — eventually — go a long way to realising this.

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