Is SA’s education system keeping pace with the world of work?

There’s a growing need for lifelong learning, teamwork, networking and an increased emphasis on digital skills.
Image: Mike Hutchings, Reuters

The world of work is changing constantly, profoundly, and faster. This is clear from the outsourcing of work, waves of technological advances, increasing automation in business, and big data analysis driving the growth of industries.

The needs of industry are shifting constantly and the education system should be responding to provide needs-based support.

Education theorists, researchers, practitioners, and policy makers have to remember that the occupational situation differs from country to country. They also need to remember that changing work contexts are influencing employees and job-seekers in distinct ways. Work is becoming increasingly more complex. This means that there’s a growing need for lifelong learning, teamwork, and networking as well as an increased emphasis on digital skills to promote career adaptability and employability.

They also have to bear in mind that the industrial sector is shrinking. Accordingly, work-seekers in the Global South have been turning to the service sector as well as to the informal economy with a fair amount of success. This trend is likely to continue.

The issue is whether education systems are keeping pace with the changes.

Gateway subjects

To understand whether young South Africans have the skills required by the current world of work after 12 years in school I use the lens of the so-called gateway subjects. These are maths and physical sciences and, to an extent, accounting. These form the foundation for scientific, economic, and industrial development and research.

Multiple educationists and researchers have contended that learners who’ve passed maths and physical sciences and have acquired the basic aspects of information communication skills and robotics have a competitive advantage in the occupational world over those that have not. South Africa simply cannot afford the unacceptably low percentage of school learners who pass Grade 12 with mathematics and physical sciences.

Why the emphasis on maths and physical sciences?

Having passed Grade 12 with maths and physical sciences helps because these subjects contribute at least 22% to the economy. Likewise, having passed either information communication technology or even computer-assisted technology helps to advance the economy by reducing production costs, boosting the growth of new businesses, and improving communication.

It also helps to acquire “soft skills” such as career adaptability, emotional-social intelligence, career resilience, creativity, innovation, and the ability to collaborate and to network, among other things. These skills are increasingly being seen as “hard skills” in the 21st century workplace because they’re strongly aligned with market needs.

Unfortunately, they aren’t being taught and learned adequately at school.

South Africa’s overly academic school system

A number of problems afflict South Africa’s education system.

Black learners continue to feel the effects of apartheid’s education system which spent more on education for white learners. This means that the vast majority of black learners in the neediest environments get inadequate teaching and learning.

Unless the disparity between rich children and poor children is addressed, the gap between the achievements of learners in well-resourced schools and disadvantaged learners in resource-scarce schools will persist.

The effects of this disparity are felt for the rest of the pupils’ lives. One consequence is that they they struggle to succeed in university studies.

An added difficulty is that the country’s overly academic school system sends the message to learners and their parents that learners should strive to study at a university and that it is ‘better’ to study at a university than, for instance, at a TVET (Technical and Vocational Education and Training) College.

I’m in favour of introducing a system that facilitates differentiated training from an early stage.

At the end of grade nine – at about 15 years old – most learners are already able decide whether they want to pursue academic or more vocational studies. This is the point where the system should start channelling them in career-related directions that will give them their best chance of eventually pursuing careers that “fit” their personalities – including their interests and aptitudes and enable them to enact their central life themes.

Another key factor that needs to be addressed is the matter of inadequate career counselling for pupils – black learners especially. During apartheid, the disadvantaged black majority of students were denied access to career counselling in schools. Even today, the vast majority of black learners still receive little career counselling at school and cannot afford to pay a career counsellor.

Funding should be made available by the government and employers to enable learners to consult career counsellors. Group-based career counselling is a viable solution to the challenge of providing career counselling in schools with large numbers of pupils.


I maintain that there are solutions for these challenges. What’s needed is the will to use resources that are available and to move forward expeditiously.

To help narrow the disparity gap I’ve argued in favour of making it compulsory for graduating teachers and educational psychologists to do community service in rural areas and townships. These professionals must be given incentives, their safety must be ensured, and they must be paid a decent salary.

Another step that could be taken is to rehire the many teachers who have been retrenched or who have taken severance package deals.The Conversation

Kobus Maree, Professor of Educational Psychology, University of Pretoria

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Sort by:
  • Oldest first
  • Newest first
  • Top voted

You must be signed in to comment.


Blaming Apartheid again aren’t we? Lame. Very very lame.

After 25 years of ANC destruction anyone still referring to Apartheid as the source of problems is quite simple a one-eyed RACIST and most definitely part of the problem.

Who is to blame that learners do not take math and science? The learners or the education system? Or Dr.Verwoerd?
But, in the end the schools are actually a SOE, run by the government. They do not do very well with anything they manage. Eskom, SAA, schools, all a failure.
Model C-schools are good because parents have a bigger say in how things are done and they employ good teachers out of their own pockets.

” What’s needed is the will to use resources that are available and to move forward expeditiously.”
Small words HUGE IMPACT “will to”
“These professionals must be given incentives, their safety must be ensured”
The fact you have to secure their safety is where it falls flat.

The teacher unions have destroyed the education system & wealth is the only route to a decent education unless your children are born with superior learning skills & intellect.

The biggest change required is that every child MUST take a practical subject at school that allows them to leave with a skill.

Sure not everyone will acquire the skill they want

The fundamental problem with solving the problem of ‘education” is that it’s being left in the hands of the “educationists” to do this.

These are the very people who cannot admit to the root cause of problem – that the grave disparity in results is due to the grave disparities in the given intelligence of the students.

The solution lies in fixing THAT problem.

SA is finally introducing Entrepreneurship, robotics and coding to the school curriculum! Private education has and is exploding. I continue to invest in Advtech and Stadio to support our country and our countrymen. What are we all doing to make our country the best in the world! We are the best nation in the world! There is no doubt about it. We have fantastic people and dynamic entrepreneurs. With the Africa free trade deal, we will conquer Africa and SA will become phenomenally wealthy!

Invest in Stadio and Advtech, get returns on your money and let them train South African learners and the rest of Africa. Private education only kicked off in the last 10 years, it will take 10 to 20 years for the benefits to really start flowing into the economy. These schools already teach entrepreneurship, robotics and coding! We have a very bright future ahead. We’ve got the people, the resources and the will to do so. Once leadership comes to the forefront, this country will fly!

This is a naive hope. We have already spent HUNDREDS of BILLIONS over the last 3 to 4 decades chasing the false ASSUMPTION that “education” is the magic panacea that will turn SA around.

Those results are in, and the verdict is unequivocal. Education is NOT the success.

One needs to FIRST intervene EARLIER ie at PARENT LEVEL.

Good parents make good students. Only THEREAFTER does education gain traction.

We need to have systems to idenify and promote our super out-performers.
If they are academics, sportsmen or artists it is fairly easy to spot them after only a few years of schooling.
Just a handful of Elon Musks (provided we keep them) would change the face of our country.

End of comments.





Follow us:

Search Articles:Advanced Search
Click a Company: