While welcoming a repeat of the education department being allocated the lion’s share of the Eastern Cape budget this year, an academic and a banker yesterday agreed that throwing money at the troubled department would not heal the province’s unemployment and economic woes.
The provincial treasury has allocated R34.7-billion to education – 44% of the province’s R78.2-billion total budget.
Standard Bank’s national head of retail and business banking, Sibongiseni Ngundze, and Nelson Mandela University’s Professor Ronney Ncwadi, who were panelists at the post-budget business breakfast at the East London IDZ, said there should be a concerted focus on the scarce skills.
Ncwadi said the scarcity of skills in the country was made worse by an education system that teaches pupils and university students to pass instead of skilling them to be ready for the needs of the workplace.
The R23-billion allocated towards training and hiring more teachers in the province was a step in the right direction, he said.
But the dire scarcity of necessary skills was exacerbated by career path choices made by university students that are not needed in the province’s economic setup, resulting in the majority “studying themselves into unemployment and working so hard for three to four years towards being unemployed”.
“So are we going to move towards producing a particular skill or are we going to produce a student that is multi-disciplined and adaptive to the rapidly changing global world?
“I think we need an approach that is innovative. We therefore need a student who is able to create and take advantage of the opportunities that surround us.
“And we need to move away from this thing of exam coaching where a student comes only to pass an exam,” Ncwadi said.
At the centre of the problem, especially in the Eastern Cape – hence the slow GPD growth in comparison to other provinces – was that students were not trained to be creative, while the creative few were leaving for advanced provinces, he said.
“In the province we need students who are able to create new things in the economy, and we need to ask ourselves a question: In what way can we harvest and be innovative around sectors that are contributing to our GDP, such as agriculture, manufacturing and tourism?”
Ngundze added that a wholesale curriculum review of the country’s education should be considered with the intention of preparing students to be productive people in the economic realm.
“The biggest thing we need to introduce is what I broadly refer to as PPE – philosophy, politics and economics. It does not matter if you are studying medicine, law or social sciences, because the bottom line is about solving human and economic problems,” said Ngundze.
“I am making this point because our biggest challenge is to make sure that our educational system produces people that can go out there and help us solve problems, even in the space of the public sector.” —