'Outdated' technical courses to return

The department of higher education and training is doing an about-turn in the already fragile further education and training (FET) technical college sector with the reintroduction next year of the national technical education (Nated) courses.

The old department of education under former education minister Naledi Pandor phased out the ‘outdated Nated” courses and replaced them with the National Curriculum Vocational (NCV), which entails students studying for three years in a technical field, undergoing a learnership and leaving with a certificate.

New and modern courses were introduced and it has became compulsory for students to study mathematics or mathematics literacy, languages and life orientation.

The Nated courses entailed students doing nine months of work in a particular field, then three months of study at a college.

The new curriculum, now in its third year, has been controversial as its benefits are untested and student failure rates have been high.

There have been several reasons for this, including absenteeism and lecturers leaving for the private sector.

Higher education director general Mary Metcalfe told a recent seminar on the educational needs of post-school youth that ‘there has been such pressure” from industry for the reintroduction of the old curriculum. She said industries that wanted the courses back would have to fund them fully at colleges.

‘The new curriculum has not been supported by all role players. We won’t have a blanket reintroduction of the old curriculum. I know [the Nated] courses are dated — ‘Let’s say the motor industry in Port Elizabeth wants to offer N2—they must go to the college and cover the costs.”

Pressed about the policy change her department was making by allowing the old curriculum to run parallel to the new one, she said: ‘We must about-turn whenever necessary. It’s not a waste of resources. It will be funded by industry.”

She conceded that ‘the colleges are fragile and there are huge challenges with the curriculum”.

Another change is that from next year students will be allowed to study the new curriculum on a part-time basis while working.

‘College principals have done their work on this. We need approval from Umalusi [the quality assurance body for further education and training]. Students can have their jobs and study part-time.”

Dr Peliwe Lolwana, visiting associate professor at the Wits school of education, said: ‘The decision to withdraw the Nated courses in the first place was premature. It was a mistake. There should have been a parallel system where the N courses were offered as a safety net or back-up to the NCV, which was new and not tested.”

She stressed that the Nated courses are of inferior quality and there have been several complaints around this.

‘The NCV is a better curriculum and it demands a whole lot more from students. While people are saying the NCV is not working, we are not asking how it is not working.

‘With the N courses you are nine months at work, then three months in a college. You start contributing to the production of the company. With the NCV, employers can’t cope with the system of full-time study.”

The seminar heard research findings by the Centre for Higher Education Transformation and the University of the Western Cape’s Further Education and Training Institute to the effect that nearly three million youth in the 18 to 24 age group are not in employment nor in education and training.

Researchers indicated that a diverse, expanded post-school education sector was needed to accommodate these youth.

They recommended that more private FET colleges be allowed to operate and that some should be allowed to offer higher certificates or shorter programmes or that they operate like community colleges, offering students two-year associate degrees, then they proceed to university to complete the second part of their degrees.

‘Finding solutions to youth who are not in employment or education and training is not optional. It’s imperative, socially, morally and economically,” researchers indicated. Meanwhile Metcalfe stressed that ‘FETs can’t solve all the problems in the sector”.

According to John Butler-Adam of the Ford Foundation, which funded the research: ‘There’s no option but to expand the post-school sector and, as a start, this means expanding FET enrolments. Allowing private FET colleges to come into being, with quality control measures in place, is also essential.”

The FET sector is under severe financial strain: there are no funds to grow student numbers next year.

Currently there are about 400 000 students in the sector and there are plans to grow this number to a million in the next five years.

Metcalfe said she would approach Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan for more funding to keep the sector afloat in the 2010/2011 financial year.

Gordhan indicated recently that government would continue to provide resources for both quality improvements and higher enrolments in the sector.

But, colleges should access funds from the skills development levy. ‘We are moving rapidly towards that but we can’t achieve this [in the next financial year],” Metcalfe said.

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