A STRONG FOUNDATION FOR SUCCESS

Overcoming the legacy of apartheid and covering the bases of early childhood development and further education

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Early childhood development is widely recognised as the fundamental pillar of any viable education system, in that it establishes the learning habits of a lifetime. However, insufficient numbers of foundation phase teachers, coupled with a lack of adequate early childhood development teacher teaching skills, has been linked with a deficit in service delivery that has hindered many a learner from achieving their full potential.

Of course, there is no shortage of willing but unqualified teachers out there—people with the passion and personality that teaching young learners requires. Unfortunately, all too often gifted would-be teachers are excluded from the system by a lack of formal education. This situation is now set to be reversed, thanks to a ground-breaking initiative by the Education, Training and Development Practices (ETDP) SETA, namely, a pilot project on the Recognition of Prior Learning covering two NQF Level 4 programmes: the Further Education and Training Certificate: Early Childhood Development (ECD) and Further Education and Training Certificate: Community Development.

A testament to the value of the SETA system, the initiative is designed to assist the careers of the thousands of workers and practitioners who have accumulated many years of experience working in early childhood development and community development without formal qualifications. The intention behind the initiative is to determine and confirm to what extent candidates have achieved the required learning outcomes or competency standards associated with a specific qualification.

The importance of this initiative cannot be underestimated. Many people are employed or self-employed but their skills are not duly recognised because of a lack of formal qualifications. A person who worked informally for thousands of hours at an early childhood development centre could very well have developed the experience and skills necessary to qualify as a teacher—yet without formal recognition of these skills, they will never be acknowledged as an educator. The EDTP initiative promises to convert this experience into formal qualification by first assessing the actual skills a potential educator possesses.

As part of this initiative, Umgungundlovu TVET College Recognition of Prior Learning Assessment Centre in KwaZulu-Natal was recently launched by Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande.

Minister Nzimande hailed the launch of the centre as a vital part of the Department of Higher and Education and Training’s endeavour to develop a new approach to vocational education and training based on the community – working with human resource assets that the community already has, rather than imposing solutions from without.

Stating that since 1994, education policies have been founded on social justice, especially human rights, social inclusion, access, fairness and equality, the Minister said that “our country is faced with a challenge of creating opportunities for the many unemployed, who may have little or no formal education or many of whom need to be redirected via a skills intervention process towards areas of the economy where they are most needed.”

“The establishment of this centre to focus on recognising prior learning is a great attempt at addressing the plight of people performing valuable work, yet without the due reward.

“This centre has a primary focus on Early Childhood Development, which is key to developing the foundational skills in our children to afford them the basis for success in the schooling education system,” he said.

As Minister Nzimande noted, many of the people who have benefited from this entered the Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) programme without having a matric exemption. The NQF Level Four certificates which they are awarded accredit them with the equivalent of a matric.

“With these certificates, [graduates] can now access the National Qualifications Framework, which affords them an opportunity to access the education system and to further their studies at higher levels and in directions of study that they choose,” the Minister said, adding that this collaboration between a SETA and a TVET college shows how valuable the educational programmes being delivered in the TVET space are—not least because they “encourage more of our people, both school leavers as well as adults, to participate”.

The Minister presented the college with the challenge of building on the ETDP SETA’s initiative, suggesting that it should be extended to all spheres of the college.

Raising the skills base

SETAS also came in for praise from Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, when he recently answered oral questions in the National Assembly in Parliament.

The Deputy President stated that government has embarked on a number of skills development initiatives, with a key focus being the effort to involve young people in the fields of science, technology and innovation.

In response to questions about the current status of skills development in the country with regard to meeting the economy’s requirements in terms of research and development and innovative technology, the Deputy President responded that, “on an overall basis, we have embarked on a number of initiatives to ensure that that we get a number of people in our country into science, technology and innovation and we will start seeing the benefits of all this in the next few years as more and more of these young people become renowned scientists, become renowned academics with PHDs as we move ahead with greater success.”

Emphasising the importance of Maths and Science studies to economic growth, Deputy President Ramaphosa said that the National Development Plan (NDP) has set an ambitious target to increase the number of eligible maths and science candidates. The NDP calls for an increase in the percentage of PhD qualifications in the higher education sector from the present 34% to over 75% by 2030.

“In a rapidly changing global economy where many traditional qualifications are continuously being displaced by technology, as we would have heard about the fourth industrial revolutions, it is critical that South Africa develops its scientific research capabilities and produces suitably qualified people who will play a key role in the evolving economy.

“That is why government is directing greater effort and more resources towards skills development in science, technology as well as innovation,” he said.

Pointing out the overall increase in the number of science, engineering and technology graduates from approximately 20 000 a year to some 58 000 a year in 2015, the Deputy President said that “this is phenomenal progress. But significant challenges still remain, particularly in the area of maths and science, which are still poor across our education system.

“Although the enrolment in science, engineering and technology in universities has been increasing, there are still only a few graduates who finally complete their studies.

“Less than 25% of students who enroll for a Bachelor of Science or Engineering degree actually finally graduate. Now this is a cause for concern.”

To address deep-rooted challenges in the country’s basic education system, which is suffering from the legacy of apartheid, a number of government initiatives have been introduced, including the decision to increase grants to provinces for the purpose of furthering the teaching and learning of mathematics and science and technology.

The Department of Basic Education plans to award 38 000 Fundza Lushaka bursaries over the next three years at a cost of R3.3 billion, particularly in maths and science and technology, he said, adding that “this is putting great resources to an area where we need to see great improvement.”

To reinforce these efforts, the Human Resource Development Council of South Africa (HRBC) has appointed a number of seasoned academics and professionals to a mathematics and science serving committee. The committee will be tasked with advising the HRBC on improving maths and science education.

“So as you can see, a number of initiatives are underway and in this regard, we are also working with the private sector to ensure that we do reach the highest levels of success in this regard.”

Not to be outdone by the HRBC, the National Research Foundation (NRF) has awarded bursaries to more than 13 000 post graduate students and 796 post graduate. The NRF also awarded research grants to more than 4300 researchers engaged in work dedicated to ensuring that South Africa’s skills development programme has what it takes to meets the needs of an “innovative and dynamic economy”.

“Our SETAs are also doing a great deal of work in this regard,” said the Deputy President. “The private sector is doing some practical work for engineering students and ensuring that they get the necessary skills.”

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