/ 20 January 2012

Why students fret at the thought of FET

Improved curricula and better-qualified lecturers are needed to ramp up standards and perceptions of FET colleges.

The country’s further education and training (FET) colleges are battling a tarnished reputation stemming largely from their own deficiencies and a poor public image.

Perceptions about the colleges include the widely held belief that they offer substandard courses and that their graduates find it hard to get well-paying jobs.

But the colleges’ failure to attract qualified and experienced lecturers and offer competitive salaries is perhaps their most pressing problem.

This make them a last option for ­students who can’t get into universities or technikons.

“We’ve had an influx of students who were not able to gain entrance to the University of Johannesburg last week,” Central Johannesburg College principal Motsumi Makhene told the Mail & Guardian.

“This tells you that when prospective students receive their [matric] certificates they don’t think about FETs, but only ­universities or technikons.”

The quality of lecturers
Makhene attributed this to scepticism about the “academic credentials of FET lecturers” and said the colleges had to “improve the quality of our lecturers”.

South Africa’s 50 public FET colleges offer training to about 220 000 students and are now being geared to increase enrolments.

The colleges are largely successful in artisan and technical studies such as building, boiler- ­making, plumbing and electrical studies but are ­struggling to make an impact in fields like marketing and business management.

“Some of our ­graduates in those fields have potential, but it’s not being explored because employers and ­universities are not interested and do not understand their qualifications,” said Makhene.

Students who spoke to the M&G this week said the quality of lecturers in the colleges was a major problem. One student who is studying at a FET college in Durban and asked not to be named, said many of the lecturers were inexperienced.

“FETs take former students who’ve just ­finished their N6 (the highest qualification received over 18 months) and who have never been in the field to gain experience and make them lecturers,” the student said.

Searching for seasoned lecturers
David Siswana said he had decided to move from a FET college in KwaNdebele to one in Pretoria for reasons including the quality of lecturers. “In Tshwane North College I know they have seasoned lecturers and are not using people who’ve just graduated with their N6 as trainers.”

Makhene said employing new graduates as lecturers was rife in FET colleges. “That happens at universities too. Unfortunately in FET colleges that practice contributes to this negative image they have.”

The minimum requirement for trainers at many FET colleges is a national diploma because “we don’t offer competitive salaries”, said Marna Gey von Pittius, an education and training manager at Sekhukhune FET College in Limpopo.

But despite their shortcomings in claiming their place in society, the colleges are churning out technicians and artisans active in the economy. “My FET helped me find an apprenticeship after I completed the N3 level and it was easier to find a job,” said Gilbert Molele, a graduate of Ekurhuleni West College in Tembisa.

Gey von Pittius recommended “competitive salaries that will attract lecturers with industrial experience”, allocating more resources to FETs and creating sound relations with companies “to place our students” as some of the requisites for improving the reputation of the colleges.