DGMT partner with a number of organisations that work in a number of different ways to facilitate access to post-school educational and training opportunities, and to ensure that such access leads to successful connection to the world of work. We thus read, with great interest, the Department of Higher Education and Training’s (DHET) Green Paper on post-school education and training released earlier this year. In our input below we draw on our experiences, and the experiences of our partners.
The Green Paper is an impressive attempt to address the systemic blockages that limit access to post-school education, and that prevent access to such educational opportunities from leading to successful entry into the world of work. Whilst we feel that the paper does a thorough job of cataloguing the problems and deficiencies of the current post-school education landscape and posits significant changes that begin the process of addressing the gaps in post-school education, there are a few areas that are not adequately addressed in the Green Paper:
A strengthened, expanded and diversified college sector
The Green Paper accurately details the weaknesses of the current college system, but still seems to categorise further education and training (FET) colleges as steps on the way to other educational and training opportunities. Whilst it is true that it is a mistake to attempt to characterise all qualifications as equal, one of the problems the FET sector has been facing is a lack of a coherent identity. The exercise of clearly defining the role of each kind of institution within the post-school education landscape will be useful, but we must be careful not to define FET colleges solely in relation to higher and basic education. The Green Paper rightly argues that the role that vocational training on its own plays needs to be recognized; we would add that recognising FET’s identities as part of that.
The plans to improve FET colleges’ capacity and infrastructure are a step in the right direction. In addition to this, a closer look at FET colleges’ role in preparing learners for the world of work needs to be taken. In order to ensure that FET colleges are offering learners an education that will facilitate successful entry into the world of work, colleges need to pay serious attention to the need for facilitative interventions that connect their graduates to employers. This means that as part of the plans to develop the capacity of FET colleges, some thought and work needs to be dedicated to developing a strategy for establishing employment facilitation capacities within FET colleges. This needs to go beyond employing career guidance counselors, and involve building relationships with local industry and other employment facilitation services.
The Green Paper lays out a plan for bringing FET colleges under the national department. This seems an ambitious undertaking. Whilst the standardization that centralized administration of FET colleges and offers is important, it would perhaps be worth exploring strengthening the capacity of provincial departments (and involving these departments in the capacity development processes planned for FET colleges) to oversee FET colleges. If FET colleges are to become centers of excellence that provide young people with a viable alternative to other forms of post-school education, the direction of provincial governments, who will have established relationships with local industry and are able to facilitate the creation of strong pathways for FET graduates into the world of work, is crucial.
The role that community-based, non-governmental centres of learning and training play is not adequately addressed in the Paper. The Green Paper accedes that the Department does not have comprehensive, up-to-date information on the range and extent of services offered by such organizations, but the plans for research into these organisations will need to be followed up by comprehensive plans for supporting these organisations. 40% of South Africa’s youth are not in employment, education or training (NEET), and cannot access current formal post-school education and training institutions. Often, these are the people who turn to the (accredited and non-accredited) short courses offered by non-governmental organisations, and rely on these organisations to forge connections with potential employers. Such organisations provide essential skills training to people who are not in employment, education or training, and who do not meet the entrance criteria for further education and training (FET) colleges: they shoulder the responsibility of providing basic literacy and numeracy training, in addition to their standard training courses. These organisations thus form an important bridge that tends to the large gaps that still exist for many of the population into the world of work. These centres often have to operate without much support from or access to sector education and training authorities (SETAs), DHET and other state bodies who are focused on supporting accredited training institutions and FET colleges. In the absence of such support (and faced with the diverse needs of members of their communities who are not in employment, education or training), these organisations are dependent on donor funding and on the support of the DoSD. Whilst this support allows these organisations to function, and access some of the resources necessary to deliver the services they offer, it is often insufficient, given the enormous gap they are addressing.
Our interactions reveal that these organisations are addressing serious gaps, often with limited to no access to state bodies that regulate training, and public resources. It is encouraging that DHET has undertaken to do research into such organisations and the role they play. We hope that DHET will engage DoSD and attempt to develop a framework through which such organisations can be supported.
Articulation, collaboration and co-ordination
The Green Paper does not adequately expound on the role of industry in post-school education and training. If post-school education and training is to equip people to enter the world of work, it is necessary that those who drive the world of work be involved in shaping the education of people who will fill the skills needs of that world. Industry stakeholders need to be included in a more direct way with special attention being paid to the establishment of live communication channels between education and training. There are existing channels and mechanisms through which industry and training and education bodies communicate; however, these have not resulted in the strong links that are vital to addressing both skills gaps and unemployment. In order to ensure that the post-school education and training system is training people to fill gaps that exist in the market, dynamic communication channels and feedback loops with industry are essential.