Education 30 years after 1994 requires a significant shakeup

Education 30 years after 1994 requires a significant shakeup
Professor Saritha Beni, Director of the MANCOSA School of Education (SOE)

On May 29, South Africa held one of the most pivotal elections in the country’s democratic history. As politicians diligently work to find common ground and make the Government of National Unity function, there is a palpable concern about the future of some of the country’s most crucial sectors.

As we look back on the 30-year journey since our landmark democratic elections in 1994, it becomes evident that significant progress in various sectors, particularly in our education system which will always remain a crucial area of focus.

“South Africa’s education sector has made remarkable strides since 1994. Despite the challenges that need to be addressed in primary and secondary education, many South Africans can confidently attest to the benefits of quality education, surpassing the achievements of previous generations. However, it’s crucial to acknowledge the current disruptions and the future we are shaping for South Africans,” emphasises Professor Saritha Beni, Director of the MANCOSA School of Education (SOE), who adds that the South African tertiary education sector is world-class and continuously produces high-quality graduates.

Focus on purpose

Prof Beni underscores the urgency of the current focus on the purpose of education, stressing that it must be sustained and reinforced to produce the high-calibre graduates South Africa is renowned for.

 

“South African employees are highly sought after because they are known to be hard workers and have some of the best skills in the world. Many South Africans must be dedicated and work hard to complete their qualification. This is due to the significant strides that were made by higher education institutions, who have always made a significant effort to focus on the quality of the education provided to students. In recent years, this focus has been reinforced by industry regulators like the Council on Higher Education, the Department of Higher Education and Training, and the South African Qualifications Authority, who constantly assess the programmes provided by higher education institutions, determining whether they meet specific quality standards. This landscape is why South Africa produces so many top professionals,” says Prof Beni.

She urges the Government to take a leaf out of the efforts that have been made by higher education providers and assess the readiness of high school learners and whether they are adequately prepared for life after school in a similar way. “Many higher education institutions face a significant challenge of dealing with students who have a wide gap in the skills necessary to excel at a tertiary level. This is mainly because many South African schools are significantly under-resourced, making it harder for these learners to compete on the same level as others. If this is addressed, schools can focus on addressing the quality issue.

Take a different approach to technological education

Many higher education institutions are finding their way in an education system increasingly governed by technology. While this forces students and educators to step out of their comfort zones, they excel.

 

Technology-based education is not new and has been around since the turn of the century. However, the slow introduction of this form of education and its disruption was significantly accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic, which created an infliction point that cannot be ignored. Many students now gravitate towards distance-based education as it allows an added dimension when it comes to accessing higher education.

 

“But technology, while a welcome game changer, also has challenges. The rise of generative artificial intelligence and how students and learners use it needs to be revised. Education is being fed to learners who must be encouraged to apply critical thinking when presented with information. Higher education institutions nationwide are holding workshops on incorporating generative AI into learning responsibly. These workshops are aimed at collaborating with students and testing the waters on what they want to get out of technology-based education models while setting firm boundaries on what will be allowable by the institution. The latter is being initiated through guideline documents workshopped with students,” points out Prof Beni.

 

Taking the lead

Another way to address the challenges posed by technology is to face them head-on and become proactive.

 

“MANCOSA has always adopted a technology-driven approach to its programmes and will continue to do so as the distance-based model of education remains central to the institution. The SOE is taking the learning that we have developed over the years and applying it to our programmes regularly,” says Prof Beni, who is proud of the SOE’s record of producing quality teacher graduates.

 

A recent addition to the SOE is the iTEACHlab, which integrates technology into teaching, enhances teacher employability and resourcefulness and involves the community. This ensures that educators can inspire and equip students with the tech skills that will benefit them when preparing learners for the demands of higher education. “By adopting international best practices and tailoring them to local needs, the iTEACHlab exemplifies how modern education initiatives can make entrepreneurship accessible to all, thus driving socio-economic progress in South Africa,” says Prof Beni.

 

MANCOSA’s School of Education has announced that they will be hosting the 2024 EduForum in July, with events scheduled in Durban, Johannesburg, and Cape Town. The EduForum will serve as a platform for meaningful dialogue, ensuring that education stakeholders are prepared to drive positive change in their communities. The EduForum will address the pressing need for upskilling and reskilling by focusing on professional development within the education sector, reinforcing MANCOSA’s commitment to impactful education. Key stakeholders invited to the event include officials from the Department of Education (DOE), Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET), South African Council for Educators (SACE), Teacher Unions, and School Principals.

 

Education begins at home

While there is a growing need for the Government to address specific challenges within the education sector, the focus on quality education must begin at home.

 

“Educators increasingly feel that technology is taking over their lives and that it is a wave that is becoming uncontrollable. Families need to take a stance when it comes to technology and the role that it plays in their children’s lives. Technology has changed the game regarding access to education, but this needs to come with critical thinking that needs to be encouraged at home, at school and within tertiary institutions,” says Prof Beni.

 

She adds that there needs to be a renewed focus on encouraging the youth to become the educators of tomorrow. “Parents often complain about the education system and how it may not benefit today’s youth. There is a desperate need for quality educators to come through the system who have dealt with our current challenges and have overcome them. By stepping out of our comfort zone, we can help others be comfortable about stepping out of theirs,” says Prof Beni, who adds that she feels that MANCOSA will play a leading role in winning this battle.


For more information on the events held by the SOE, contact Shamon Lortan (SOE – Manager: Wil) [email protected].

 

 

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