ONYI NWANERI | Youth falling through the cracks of education system

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ONYI NWANERI | Youth falling through the cracks of education system

Published on: February 17th, 2024

Reflecting on what might be his final state of the nation address pending the upcoming elections, President Cyril Ramaphosa’s speech seemed to prematurely celebrate anti-corruption reforms while downplaying the profound impact of state capture on youth development, education and empowerment in SA.

In his address, Ramaphos recounted the hypothetical success story of Tintswalo, a young girl who transcended generational inequality and poverty with the aid of government services and opportunities throughout her life.

The reality in the communities we serve, however, is that for every Tintswalo, there are millions of children and young people who are grossly let down by the systems in which they are told to place their hope.

While progress has been made, more needs to be done. SA is far from resolving the persistent triple challenges of poverty, inequality unemployment. Corruption, state capture and ethical erosion in both private and public sectors are significant barriers to effective youth development policies.

Though Ramaphosa highlighted the success of various initiatives such as the Youth Employment Tax Incentive and the National Youth Service Programme, this is against a stark backdrop of 4.6 million unemployed youth (43.4%) in the country.

The efforts of private-public partnerships in providing access to skills and employment opportunities for young people must be applauded, but these initiatives need to be broadened and accelerated.

We need to change the status quo with bold steps. Let’s consider mandating that final year students transition to a one-year youth service immediately after graduating for a chance to be absorbed within the year of service in whatever organisation they are placed, earning at least minimum wage during this period.

In this digital age, solvable infrastructure challenges are hampering access to quality information and affordable internet connection. Dependable infrastructure is going to be the deciding factor in how fast we can close the gaps allowing our youth to fall through the cracks of a broken education system.

Reliable universal broadband, as was promised at least a decade ago, would go a long way in helping to alleviate the need for children to walk many kilometres to school and enable them to finish secondary education.

Though this year’s matric results were positive and deserve to be celebrated, SA’s education and literacy rates are not globally competitive, and the current education system is not producing quality graduates whose skill level matches global industry demand.

As a result, the country is producing wealth at a rate far below its potential to the detriment of millions of young people who deserve a fighting chance at becoming productive, self-sufficient members of society.

We need to change our attitude toward education, skills development and work experience, placing a focus on potential. Focus should be on whether the prospective employee has the requisite skills and values, and is likely to add value to the company: the rest will follow.