South Africa needs a radical shift towards modernised education system, expert

First year student Snethemba Hadebe at the Wits Main campus. Picture: Motshwari Mofokeng

First year student Snethemba Hadebe at the Wits Main campus. Picture: Motshwari Mofokeng

Published May 31, 2023


South Africa has one of the highest unemployment rates and youth unemployment rates globally, often described as a full blown national crisis. However, education activist Hendrick Makaneta has applauded the government for making great strides to ensure that the doors of learning remained open for most students, particularly those from poor communities.

“There is no doubt that access to universities improved drastically in the past thirty years. To date, the country has produced more black graduates than the apartheid regime,” Makaneta said.

However, Makaneta said there are still challenges that must be resolved, especially when it comes to education outcomes within the terrain of higher education.

He has called for more focus on ways to address the “skewed” basic education levels so that children from poor communities and schools can stand an equal chance against their peers from more affluent schools when they reach higher education institutions.

Makaneta said the problem was the fact that those who come from poor schools must often “double their efforts” in order to be on par with their peers from affluent schools.

“We need to find a way to address the skewed basic education with a view to level the play field so that access to higher education can match the success rate. This means that in the process, we must take a radical shift towards a modernised education system which will not only equip students with a certificate but also knowledge. We really need a knowledgeable cohort of graduates who will not wait for jobs but take practical steps to create jobs for themselves and their peers.

Makaneta said that the fact that many graduates do not graduate in record time spoke volumes about the nature and character of the terrain of higher education, which remained “highly contested” almost thirty years into democracy.

The performance of students from poor communities is well documented in literature, as Makaneta makes note of a study that found that five out of twelve students graduated with a degree on record time and that almost 25% drop out of the system in their first year of study.

Statistics SA has published its latest Quarterly Labour Force Survey (QLFS) for the first quarter of 2023, showing that the official unemployment rate nationally has risen to 32.9%, a 0.2 percentage point increase from 32.7% in the preceding quarter.

The QLFS also showed that 3.7 million young people, accounting for 36.1% of the 15-24 age group, are not in employment, education, or training.

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