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Needed: School leavers who are independent, creative thinkers with realistic expectations

With approximately 512 000 full time and 108 000 part time learners that wrote the matric exams last year, there is excitement and an expectancy in the air by and on behalf of the those who wrote the exams. The Minister of education will supposedly be equally excited to learn if she has been able to push up the pass rate to 70%, more than the 68% of 2011.

Unfortunately it seems to have become a bit of a fool’s game.

 It is trite that the department of education has failed our children in many respects, to the extent that the value of a matric certificate has become questionable. Among the learners who wrote the exams will be those who made use of the opportunity to learn and who will have earned a good result, allowing them to gain entry to further education at a tertiary institution. The remainder might be of the opinion that it will be easy going and that a matric certificate will open doors for them in the job market. Unfortunately, the latter might not come all that easy.

After the recession in 2008, it is a fact that the cost of capital has become cheaper than the cost of labour. This means that employers become more choosy when making appointments. They carefully select skilled people and preferably those with experience behind them. Matriculants with no experience will therefore have to do something special to impress potential employers when they go for an interview.

The job market needs school leavers who are independent and creative thinkers and who are realistic in their expectations.

Furthermore, industries should become more forward thinking and intercept pupils who are not ready to gain admission to universities and present them with learnerships.

As things stand now, thousands of matriculants will not make it into tertiary institutions, may drop out of university or will be unable to find jobs. The reason for this can to a large extent be found in our education system, say two education experts the trade union UASA has consulted with.

Marelie Janse van Vuren, an experienced educationist and MD of Value-Added Teaching, specialising in adding a meta-cognitive dimension to facilitation and training programmes, says pupils should be turned into creative, independent thinkers.

“A matric certificate alone is not enough to open doors anymore. If our children can become creative and critical thinkers, they will be able to make a living for themselves and others as entrepreneurs and job creators.

“Today’s children don’t have to learn the names of the world’s countries by heart any longer, they can find this information by simply pushing a few buttons on their laptops. What they need most is to learn how to convert the information they have access to into creative plans to better their lives and create income streams.”

Janse van Vuren paraphrases Thomas L. Friedman, a columnist in the New York Times: “Struggling public schools are actually a critical, but unspoken, reason for the recession. Now that we are picking up the pieces, we need to understand that it is not only our financial system that needs a reboot and an upgrade, but also our public school system. Otherwise the jobless recovery won’t be just a passing phase, but our future."

Ina Rossouw-Pretorius, for many years involved in education as teacher, head of the East Rand Teacher Centre, and currently involved with the Job Creation Trust in collaboration with the Wits Language School, says school leavers do so with immense, but unrealistic expectations.

 “It is just not always true that you can become whatever you dream of. Youngsters’ expectations and the quality of today’s matric qualification have little in common,” says Rossouw-Pretorius.

“Another unfortunate misconception is that everybody should obtain a university degree. There is such a shortage of artisans in South Africa and the world today; it is surprising that more isn’t done to encourage pupils in that direction.”

Rossouw-Pretorius suggests that industries should become more forward thinking and intercept pupils who are not ready to gain admission to universities and present them with learnerships.

“Industry is always looking for talent in specific fields. If these pupils are intercepted in grade 11 and 12 and encouraged into a field where they can obtain qualifications as for instance artisans, we have taken a big step forward, not only in presenting a viable future for matrics and school leavers who cannot go to university, but also adding to a much needed adequately trained workforce.”

She also believes big corporates should consider sponsoring teachers in technical subjects to provide an injection of life and skills into struggling technical schools.

“Technical schools are struggling today. Truth is that a child passing matric in a technical school already has an N3 qualification which opens doors towards employment,” says Rossouw-Pretorius.

UASA supports the views of Rossouw-Pretorius and Janse van Vuren. As a labour union we encourage the department of education and government to help infuse realistic expectations in our pupils and improve their  chances for viable employment and a better future for all.

School leavers should, however, not become despondent. There are opportunities out there, but the main thing to do is to adopt a suitable attitude. By adopting the right attitude, you will prepare properly for an interview, present yourself in a proper way, be reasonable in your expectations and have respect for the person conducting the interview. Having the right attitude also means having a long term view. It is worth much more to gain experience, even at low wage levels initially, but always remember that every bit of experience counts.