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Adult education the key to SA’s jobs dilemma

The Department of Higher Education’s green paper on Post School Education and Training recognises that the education and training system cannot create jobs on its own.

THE increasing focus on SA’s unemployment dilemma runs the risk of muddying the waters. There are too many proposals doing the rounds. What we really need to achieve is a sustainable solution is to identify a core issue and then fix it.

The Department of Higher Education’s green paper on Post School Education and Training recognises that the range of education and training opportunities is too limited to meet the needs of society and the economy; that these opportunities need to be expanded; and that they must include community education. An evident stumbling block is a severe lack of human and physical infrastructure. I suggest that the hurdles are capable of being more readily negotiated in an education context than anywhere else.

The mainly rurally located community-based organisations (CBOs) are, in theory, able to train the millions of people who are desperate to improve themselves.

Critically, the green paper resolves to make reducing unemployment its priority. And since, by extension, the highest unemployment rates are in rural areas, it is the people who live there that require the urgent attention.

Most urgent of the many priorities is improving the skills and capacity of those who are members of CBOs. Do so successfully and you have a powerful catalyst for agents of change able to add value within their communities.

Of particular concern is sustainability — the need for continuity of training programmes of this nature, as the budgets are insufficient to roll out effective projects for another year. My organisation has encountered just such stumbling blocks, as a result of which we are recommending to the authorities that projects designed to create sustainable CBOs be planned over a three-to five-year period, while providing for incremental increases in capacity via new applications.

Lest there be any uncertainty among stakeholders about what constitutes success in the CBO upliftment sphere, our National Skills Fund (NSF) initiatives in the Eastern Cape, Free State, the Northern Cape and North West have flowed from tailored courses in business readiness; communication basics in business; fund-raising; tourism; leadership; corporate governance; basics of human resources; basics of finance; basics of health; personal safety in the workplace; and self-management practices.

The scale of the roll-out is obviously a factor if sustainability is to be achieved. Yet the positive effect of the programmes that have proved their worth must surely be sufficient to motivate the allocation of additional funds to the process that the green paper espouses.

Our record in the CBO-training arena serves two purposes — to emphasise the need for additional funding in order to spread the joy more widely, and to highlight the green paper’s identification of the dearth of opportunities for rural youths and adult as a "major challenge".

The green paper suggests the design of SA’s qualifications framework and quality assurance system has, in some instances, made it difficult for providers to offer informal programmes, as the emphasis has been on formal qualifications. "This has … contributed to the general collapse of not-for-profit and community-based service providers." Additional funding by the NSF for CBO projects confirms the department’s commitment to reversing this trend.

As a corollary to that commitment, the green paper acknowledges that "contracts are managed and monitored not so much on the basis of the success of the training provided but more in terms of contract conditions … focus on quantity and throughput, rather than on learning and impact. The community education and training approach to adult learning intentionally seeks to facilitate a cycle of lifelong learning in communities, and offers routes to enhance personal, social, family and employment experiences."

Underlining the green paper’s stress on further adult education is its emphasis on learning that does not lead to a qualification. Hence: "Not all education has to be on the National Qualifications Framework and not all quality education has to lead to a qualification."

The green paper recognises that the education and training system cannot create jobs on its own. The problem is it does not offer clear or strong enough direction on the use of NSF funding for more opportunities for community-changing experiences. Organisations involved in such projects need better access to funding.

Jackie Carroll is CEO of adult education and training organisation Media Works.

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