/ 12 May 2011

Learning beyond the classroom

Learning Beyond The Classroom

If you teach grades seven, eight or nine, especially if you are the life orientation teacher, you may find further education and training (FET) colleges a pressing issue. May is a good time to begin to help all pupils understand what FET colleges offer and how they fit into the wider range of learning and study options.

The reality is that many pupils will find themselves having to leave school before completing grade 12 and FET colleges are part of a broad, interlinking system of education and training designed to prepare people for sustainable and meaningful lives.

On the one hand, we have an acute shortage of certain skills that are often called critical and scarce skills. On the other, overall unemployment stands at 24% and among the youth (those under 30) at 42%. Almost 86% of young people do not have further or tertiary training.

FET colleges are designed as one band of vocation-focused training and skills options and also as a foundation for further educational development. They offer the theory dimension of workplace learnerships and also provide a broad range of short skills training courses linked to industry needs.

One of their flagships is the fairly new national certificate (vocational) or NC(V), an industry-focused, three-year certificate at levels 2 to 4 in the National Qualifications Framework. The certificate’s study options include primary agriculture, hospitality, office administration, marketing, and building and civil construction.

A grade nine certificate is a minimum entry requirement, but many FET colleges find that pupils entering with a grade 11 or 12 are far more likely to graduate. There are also alternative minimum-entry requirements: you may need to direct pupils to the ­various help options available to assist them in matching their individual levels of school attainment to the different ways of accessing college study (see sidebar: “Career advice as you need it”).

First, though, here are tips to help all your pupils find out more about FET colleges:

  • Invite an FET speaker to your school. Call the nearest FET college and invite its marketing or schools liaison officer to visit your school to explain what the college offers. The officers will be able to talk about the FET college system in general. School visits are part of their job.
  • Find out the pass rates for particular colleges. They have been in the news recently and many people are aware of questions being asked, especially because the national average pass rate for the NC(V) for 2010 was only 11%. Where does that leave you, the life orientation teacher whose job it is to inform and support learners? Despite that pass rate, there are huge differences in performance between colleges and you can help pupils to research the pass rates at colleges they want to consider.
  • Compare NC(V) courses of study at different colleges. There is a set of vocational subjects that can comprise the certificate, but not every ­college offers all options. You can help pupils understand the vocational implications in choosing a particular college.
  • Inform pupils of the possibility of NC(V) subject choice based on scarce-skills assessments. Cross-check the scarce-skills list from the national department of labour’s website (www.labour.gov.za) with options at particular FET colleges; it may be helpful for pupils who want to increase their chances of employment. Remember, though, that no scarce-skills predictions can offer certainty because it is hard to predict how the national-needs picture might change.
  • Explore the viability of options. Help pupils check whether a preferred college away from home has boarding facilities and what the costs are. All FET colleges provide financial support but often this does not cover all expenses. Help pupils investigate actual expenses against financial ­support they can count on.
  • Develop a classroom roster of FET college deadlines. Application dates vary from college to college and some colleges also require a pre-entry test. These should be added to the roster.
  • Rehearse completing application forms. A huge percentage of application forms are rejected because they are not filled in correctly. Help pupils practise completing the forms for courses and financial support long before the applications are due. This can also be used as a tool to develop career planning and language skills.
  • Find out about the college’s linkages to an employer network. Research suggests that colleges with employer links have higher numbers of NC(V) graduates who find work than colleges with fragile or no employer links. The active engagement between colleges and employers is a highly relevant question to explore.
  • Find out from the FET college the percentage of its graduates that finds work and in what kinds of jobs. Because the purpose of the NC(V) is to increase employability, this is an important question.
  • Help pupils who want to do an NC(V) to think carefully about when to make the transition from school to an FET. As already mentioned, entry to the NC(V) is open to grade nine pupils but some FET college teaching staff find that students entering the NC(V) course with a grade 11 or 12 are more successful. In fact, some FET colleges will automatically accept applicants who have completed grade 11 or 12 for the NC(V), but insist on grade nine applicants passing an entry test.
  • Talk about employability. In classroom conversations about FET colleges, include a proactive approach to increasing employability — a topic that includes, but is broader than, post-school training and certification.
  • FET-related topics are often discussed during SABC radio broadcasts in nine languages. Encourage your pupils to listen to these: after a talk on topics such as FET colleges, financing studies or learnerships, callers can ask questions. Check the website, call the helpline number or send an email to find out when FET-related topics will be broadcast (see contact details in sidebar).

Career advice as you need it
Many pupils will need individual help with career development. They can discuss their concerns with the Career Advice Service managed by the South African Qualifications Authority under the auspices of the national higher education and training department.
Contact information:
Website: www.careerhelp.org.za and mobi.careerhelp.org.za.
Email: [email protected].
Facebook: www.facebook.com/careerhelp.
Twitter: www.twitter.com/nqfcareerhelp.
Cellphone/landline: 086 011 1673.
SMS: 072 204-5056.
Fax: 012 431-5144.
Physical address: 5th floor, SAQA House, 1067 Arcadia Street, Hatfield, Pretoria.
Also see website for walk-in centres around South Africa.

Patricia Flederman consults in career development, organisational development and training. As a consultant to the South African Qualifications Authority, she helped lay the groundwork for the Career Advice Service. Email: [email protected]