Meet SA’s Generation Disappointment

2010-10-16 10:34

At first glance, South African postgraduates face the same ­difficulties of a post-recession job ­market as their international ­counterparts, but that is where the similarities end.

When you factor in the ­sociopolitical landscape in South Africa?– our problematic education system, fast-moving technologies and the effect of popular culture?– this global trend will take years to correct. It is another time bomb that our country has to defuse if we want to add our name to the list of Bric nations (Brazil, Russia, India and China) that the world is watching so intently.

The problems are multifaceted, but the root of the problem is our failed education system. Outcomes-based education, introduced in 2005, has been scrapped and replaced with the government’s new plan, Schooling 2025. However, this new curriculum will take the next two years to ­implement, which means an entire schoolgoing generation – our next-generation workforce – will have experienced an ­inconsistent school curriculum.

Our recent public servants’ strikes and the World Cup have ­resulted in a loss of eight weeks of the school year for the class of 2010. The education department is bracing itself for poor matric ­results if the dip in the pass rate in 2007, the last time we experienced prolonged public servants’ strikes, is anything to go by.

But even if our learners advance to tertiary education, a new set of stumbling blocks comes into play. There are numerous cases of ­learners who have had to wait two years to receive their matric ­certificates, without which they are unable to begin tertiary education. Red tape and incompetence in some government departments are adding to their misery.

Universities, on the other hand, have felt the effects of a failed ­education system and have been forced to raise their qualification requirements, reducing the prospect of entering university for many learners. Universities are ­also owed R13.2?billion by learners who have taken out student loans.

Many have dropped out. However, for those who manage to finish their degrees, some universities have started to withhold results or certificates in an attempt to recoup money owed, thereby exacerbating the problem.

But apart from the problems within our higher-education ­system, new career trends are evolving at lightning speed. Most parents have already been told that when their child enters the ­education system, the job that they will eventually find will most likely not have been invented yet. Such is the pace of change in the ­modern business world.

This rapid change is of course due to changing technologies. Many universities are battling to keep their courses relevant as, in many cases, academic degrees now have little relevance to the practical requirements needed in the field.

There are debates as to whether a much-prized degree is in fact suitable for the majority of ­students attending university. Is the money and time spent really worth it, and is a return to vocational training not more valuable to the needs of our changing world?

Add to this already potent mix of challenges and disillusionment, the effect of popular culture – instant gratification, bling and celebrity culture, and dodgy role models (young people now discuss openly, and earnestly how they can pitch for government tenders) – and the long-term effect of Generation Disappointment becomes apparent.

As early as 2006, a Human ­Sciences Research Council ­report found that postgraduates were ­already experiencing a two-year lag between leaving tertiary education and finding employment, which ­resulted in many of our youth ­falling between the cracks.

For Generation Disappointment, the bleak situation they find themselves in is in many respects not of their own making. Their parents sacrificed a lot so that they could have a better life and, because they were raised in boom times, their expectations were high.

Now they’ve hit a brick wall.

Perhaps the government should take note that in last year’s election 42% of voters were between the ages of 18 and 35. The 2019 elections will be determined by young people. This generation carries no political baggage. It will be interesting to see how they vent their frustrations.

» Chang is the founder of Flux Trends. Visit

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