Let's all take the blame

2018-01-28 06:01
A desperate graduate stands on a street corner begging for work.

A desperate graduate stands on a street corner begging for work.

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Students are not solely responsible for being unemployable. Profit-motivated institutions and lazy lecturers are part of the problem, writes Chris Maxon.

There is an enormous delusion with regard to whether we have a problem of “youth unemployment”, or “youth unemployability” or both. Too often this is erroneously brought under the poorly defined slogan “unemployable youths”.

Many a time, this has become a political football, when those seeking the political and moral high ground dig up statistics to substantiate their insults. We inadvertently tend to put the blame squarely on our youth, without addressing the key matters. It is for this reason that, at almost any educational function, the guests of honour – academics, politicians – proclaim with religious pomposity and certainty that today’s youths are “unemployable”. Two things are to be noted: firstly, the use of the word ‘unemployable’; and, secondly, the ambiguously defined word ‘skills’.

Regarding the former, when the all-knowing speakers state with absolute certitude that “youths are unemployable”, they are indirectly implying that students are solely responsible for their unemployability, not the universities and colleges.

This is one of the easiest excuses concocted by universities, colleges, teachers, parents, leaders, politicians and society to avoid taking responsibility for their actions.

After all, how can voiceless youths retort to such accusations? It is essential to recognise that when young people enter universities and overrated colleges, a system of education based on memorisation is inculcated in them, in which lackadaisical lecturers, habituated to the existing system, depend on giving notes and, in most cases, provide reductionist explanations of concepts.

Johan Fourie, an associate professor in economics at Stellenbosch University, instead of digging deeper into the causalities, makes a case for private education. “There is an alternative. Over the past few years, private schools have become an alternative for middle-income families wanting a better future for their children,” he says.

According to Theron, there is going to be a “listings boom” in private education, “because it’s obvious – unfortunately the state isn’t getting its game together … these (state) schools aren’t going to get better any time soon, so it’s a good opportunity for the private sector”.

This will definitely bring to the fore class anomie in access to higher education by our youths, despite the government’s commitment to free tertiary education that President Jacob Zuma announced in December.

In addition, most lecturers, both at university and in colleges, particularly those seasoned in the university system, are lackadaisical and indolent. They have secured their jobs; hence they are happy to live off their inflated salaries without engaging in new research or keeping up with advancements in their fields of study. That is why the syllabuses have not changed to reflect these advancements. It is also why they have shunned the call by #FeesMustFall students for “decolonised education”.

We ought to remember that students turn out to be like their teacher; hence the state of our society.

When centres of learning and education – be they private universities or public – become profit motivated, the result will be overinflated, unemployable degree holders. When money becomes the centrepiece of any educational establishment, the quality of education is inevitably lowered and no appropriate skills for the future are provided to students, since providing such skills and quality education cuts into the profits of the college owners and (collective) associations.

When we look at youth unemployment and/or the quality of graduates produced by our institutions of higher learning, we need to hold society, including parents and guardians, responsible for its failure to produce employable youths. Our society is such that we elevate and respect only one particular form of employment: government jobs. Because we deem government jobs the only legitimate form of work, we disregard and degrade all other occupations, especially entrepreneurship.

Education in our society has become a means to an end, not an end in itself. We use it for the sole purpose of sitting for competitive exams or securing back-door appointments.

This brings me to my second point. What does one mean by the word ‘skill’? To blindly assert that there are “unemployable youths with no proper skills” is to avoid taking responsibility for the annihilation of students’ lives and their futures.

It is a very sycophantic way of placing blame on the victim. Define what “skills” are first, because without that it seems rather imprudent to speak of furnishing youths with employable “skills”. Moreover, because our society sees government jobs to be the only source of legitimate occupation, students are impelled to pursue government jobs, even when it is evidently clear that they are not interested in these.

This, implicitly, destroys not only the life of a society, but also the lives of students and their families. It destroys families because they are saddened when their child has failed to secure a government job; the child, in turn, feels depressed that he/she has failed to pass competitive exams and feels more dejected in knowing that his/her family is disappointed. On the other hand, it destroys the society’s life because it the directs majority, if not all, of the students – who could have been good in their chosen careers and used their talents to the betterment of society – to pursue an endeavour in which most are bound to fail, thus leaving them frustrated.

In light of all these factors, how can a stunted university system with outdated syllabuses produce employable youths? How can profit-motivated colleges produce employable youths? How can we expect youths to be resourceful when society rewards and elevates only government employment?

University of Cape Town academic Jacques Rousseau opined: “Rejecting the establishment of an elite private university on the basis that it would exclude the poor because of the high cost of its fees is like banning Lamborghinis because they’re too expensive for ordinary folks like you or me.” Wow, bourgeois sarcasm!

He further asserts that making tertiary education a right rather than a privilege should be blamed for #FeesMustFall students executing their generational duty. I guess our youth, in turn, must also blame their forbears unleashing an untiring struggle against apartheid for their current frustrations.

The task facing the department of higher education is to vehemently assert public higher education as being dedicated to providing quality education and imparting necessary skills. However, in many instances, this turns out to be only talk. In reality, most of these colleges are there to skim financial profits from parents and funds from various state-run and centralised schemes.

The odds are stacking up against the poor and working class youth. The urgent task, in Fidel Castro’s words, is to seek “what should be and will be, in our judgement, an education system that increasingly corresponds to the equality, full justice, self-esteem and moral and social needs of all people in the type of society that [we] have decided to build”.

In view of such a pitiful societal milieu, how can we put the blame solely on the shoulders of the youth? Rather, such a system, situated in such a society, ends the potential of many talented students. It creates more frustrated students. This is manifest in the socially deviant behaviour we observe among the youths of today.

Ultimately, we are all to blame. We must not be so shameless as to put all the blame on students. Yes, students have to play their part. Nevertheless, as elders, we must first create a societal and educational environment that enables students to recognise their unique talents. Educational institutions can produce employable youths only when they help students realise their innate potential.

Maxon is a public servant in the KwaZulu-Natal provincial government.

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Read more on:    education  |  unemployment  |  youth

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