Red flags over new subjects and curriculum changes for schools in South Africa

Youth development and employment expert Ntombizamasama Hlophe says that the government’s plan to restructure the curriculum and add new vocational and occupational subjects for learners is a good move – but warned that the subject choices may be out of step with what the country actually needs.

The Department of Basic Education says it will introduce as many as 38 new subjects to schools in the next few years, targeting learners in grades 10 to 12 as part of its new ‘three stream’ curriculum.

Under the current system, which the department calls the academic stream, the simple goal is to get learners through matric and into universities or other institutions of higher learning. With the new three-stream model, from grade 10, learners will be able to divert their education into vocational and occupational streams, which focus more on practical skills in specific fields.

Some of the occupational subjects that have already been trialled include things like agricultural studies, beauty and nail technology, office administration, plumbing and hairdressing, among many others. Some of the prominent vocational subjects include digital technology, electrical technology and hospitality studies, among others.

The department intends for the subjects and the curriculum model to be fully implemented by 2025.

Speaking to the SABC about the planned changes, Hlophe, the strategy director for marketing and strategy group Yellowwood, said that there appears to be a significant disconnect between the occupational and vocational subjects the department wants to target and the skills needed for the working world of the future.

Web Search Engine

The strategist, who focuses on youth development and employment insights, said that expanding the curriculum to target education beyond academia is a welcome change but added that this should also aim for a specific target.

She said that in Europe, for example, there was a concerted effort to move into agriculture and develop agricultural skills so that the region could be globally competitive in that field. The types of vocational and occupational subjects being targeted by South Africa, however, don’t appear to have this same focus.

“We need to balance employability with the reality of the context in which we’re working,” she said.

“The burden right now is that – and understandably so in South Africa – we are incredibly obsessed with a short-term employability perspective, but I’m not sure we’re making the choices and decisions that have to do with the kind of society we want to build.”

“The short answer is that I’m not sure these are absolutely the skills that we need. What we need is to help people find a way to earn a living – we may be leaning too hard on what we believe are ‘tried and tested’ methods and not contextualising it in where the world is headed and where we want to be competitive.”

She said that employability has to do with things that people are willing to pay money for – and it appears that this has not been factored into compiling the list of subjects, making it a challenge to accept that this is the ideal path forward for the skills the country should be building.

This disconnect between where the education department wants to focus occupational and vocational learners and what the marketplace demands will exacerbate the skills mismatch South Africa is facing.

Recent findings by professional services firm PwC showed that South Africa’s job market is likely not going to create enough employment to absorb the country’s growing working population over the next five to 10 years.

The group projects that the economy will grow enough to support around 200,000 new jobs annually, while the working population is expected to grow at 350,000 people over the same period. In the worst-case scenario plotted by PwC, the unemployment rate could climb to 40%.

Data from jobs portal CareerJunction shows that the kinds of jobs that are likely to grow in popularity in the next five to 10 years are primarily in the fields of finance, sales, IT, management and manufacturing.

This includes skills like cloud engineers, data scientists, data engineers, digital marketers, renewable energy specialists and e-commerce managers, among others.

While some tech-driven skills are present in the occupational and vocational lists put forward by the department – with the government moving to introduce subjects like coding and robotics to the curriculum – there are many positions on the list which may not hold the long-term or future-ready capacity learners need.

“One of the bigger challenges we have as a country whenever we talk about the future is we adopt the position of ‘either/or’, and we need to start adopting ‘and’. There’s no doubt that our economy has a need for skills that are non-technology, and it takes a long time to move an economy beyond industrialisation,” Hlophe said.

However, she said that the department is struggling to show that the subjects it has presented are in demand in the immediate to short term.

She said that it is impossible to have an education conversation without also having an industry conversation, where businesses and employers present what they see as current and future demands.

“As long as one is absent from the other, we are going to be constantly clashing,” she said.

Read: Massive curriculum shift for schools in South Africa, including new subjects

Artmotion S.Africa

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button