/ 15 November 2019

We must invest in technical colleges

We Must Invest In Technical Colleges
Job seekers: Investing in human development is essential to lifting the economy. One way to do this is for technical colleges to have 21st-century curricula. (Guillem Sartorio/AFP)




It is seven years since the government’s national development plan (NDP) to realise our dreams by 2030 was unveiled. Yet it would seem that it may bite the dust. Like the Growth, Employment and Redistribution (Gear) strategy, and the Accelerated Shared Growth Initiative for South Africa before it, the NDP seems to continue the long road to generational poverty and disillusionment. But we must fight for its dreams to become reality.

In 2012 the NDP ignited the national imagination with its possibility to regain the fervour and spirit of South Africa’s can-do attitude. The NDP remains a hopeful and visionary document, despite its shortcomings.

The process of its development is the result of a concentrated national discussion with people to help shape its growth and development trajectory — what the academics call “collaborative rationality”. That year was a time when government spoke to its people and shared the dreams we all have: socioeconomic dignity for all (not only some) and for young people to dream the next chapter of the South African story. In this way the NDP invoked the idealism of Gear.

We should welcome the national planning committee review of the NDP at the Vision 2030 Summit next week at Emperor’s Palace in Gauteng, but it should not be a technocratic review of what hasn’t happened in the last seven years. We know. The thousands of service delivery protests across the country tell their own story of broken dreams and the palpable anger towards the state in all its permutations.

The 55% of young people not employed is a terrifying number that must shake us out of the inertia and disconnected implementation plans.

South Africa is one of 134 countries globally, which have national development plans. Eighty percent of the global population lives in a country with a national development plan. We are not unique in planning. But perhaps we are unique in that our plans have not yielded nearly enough fruit.

We must look at economies where planning and investment in human development have yielded sustained success. A good example is the infrastructure investment models of Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan, which saw these countries emerge as the Asian Tiger economies of the 1990s. Central to their success has been the investment in education. Researchers claim that the “education miracle” is behind their “economic miracle” . A lesson here is that sustained levels of investment in human development pay off.

In South Africa, the technical vocational education and training colleges can be the education miracle behind both rural and urban economies. We are missing the boat. Here are three examples of the planning disconnect.

l The Western Cape probably has the best run colleges in the country. This is mainly because of the historical bias of apartheid-era administrative infrastructure, which sees these colleges deliver. Yet in a province that has earmarked agriculture as a driver of its provincial economy, no college offers an innovative, 21st century agricultural programme that mitigates the risk of climate change to food production.

The film industry in the province is one of the biggest contributors to provincial gross domestic product, yet not a single college offers a vocational programme in television or film production.

College administrators cannot seem to find the link between vocational education and local and provincial economic development for a 21st-century student or economy. If they do, they are not willing or able to challenge a curriculum that is no longer relevant to the needs of young South Africans or to a national and regional economy. Curricular change is a hell no administrator wants to enter. Nor can national education or trade ministries see this “no-brainer”.

l The Eastern Cape has two special economic zones geared for export trade and has a strong focus on maritime education at secondary and post-school levels. Imagine a rural provincial export zone between the Free State, Northern Cape and Eastern Cape, offering training and employment for rural college graduates. No rural youth brain drain. No economic migration to urban centres already strained by service delivery.

As former Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez knew: not everyone needs to live in a city. The rural countryside needs its people.

In China, districts hold the college at the centre of industry and factories are ready to offer on-the-job training directly to students.

Imagine the Eastern Cape special economic zones in East London directly linked to the Buffalo college with graduates in business administration certificates in mercantile and related import-export logistics ready for on the job training in the export zone? It’s a no-brainer.

l We must acknowledge the R1.8-billion redirected to fight the societal pain of gender-based violence. This fact is our shame, but

also our window of opportunity to break the cycles of violence. Poor men without any hope of dignity, who carry the pain and anger of generations, will transfer it to the weakest among us.

This is social scientific fact. It is also a fact that when those same men have a job, can provide for their families and live with a measure of dignity — and dreams — they may no longer need to inflict pain on others.

The battle against patriarchy is one our daughters will continue. But for now, our society must provide dignified work for men who sit on the side of the road angry and hungry.

The South Africa policy and planning landscape exists. We are just not good at connecting the planning and policy dots and building one image.

As the Ramaphosa government reviews our NDP it must be more than a technocratic-analytical exercise and be a continued social conversation in which the requirements for sustained and sustainable human development and socioeconomic growth remains the lighting rod. Central to these conversations are foregrounding young people and harnessing their capabilities. They must write the next chapter of our story … if we let them.

Helga Jansen-Daugbjerg is the national

programmes director for Activate! a network of young leaders