A four-step plan to tackle the education needs of SA

The turmoil in higher education is holding up a mirror to society. This is an opportunity to rethink our approach to education and skills training as part of the socioeconomic transformation essential for shared prosperity and a vibrant democracy.

We must give every young citizen the opportunity to be the best he or she can be. We have the resources to provide free education and training to all from preschool to tertiary level, if only we reordered our priorities.

Doing more of the same or tinkering at the edges is an inadequate response to the urgent cry of young people for a more inclusive society that enables all to develop their talents and contribute to a prosperous society.

Unfortunately, many poor black students continue to battle academic, financial and institutional barriers to gain higher education qualifications. Our attempts at incremental change are being overtaken by the impatience of young people who feel excluded. We need to increase the momentum for transformation.

The rise of the voices of young people in our society is welcome. The future is theirs to shape and inhabit. Young people have played seminal roles in awakening our society to its opportunities at key moments in our history. The 1968 global student uprisings ignited the rise of the black consciousness movement led here by university students.

Young people have again seized the opportunity to rewrite their stories. They are correctly questioning the grand narrative of the past 21 years. It is a narrative of a heroic leader owed loyalty by voters unrelated to performance and accountability for meeting the basic needs of citizens. Young people are rejecting this narrative, which breeds dependency. They want to be citizens with rights and responsibilities.

Inequality in our society fuels anger and brutal violence. White fellow citizens should seize this historic opportunity to contribute to a more equal and just society. They can do this by deploying their skills, experience and wealth to enable partnerships for a shared future to emerge from the pain and tension of the present.

We have an opportunity to use this higher education turmoil to intensify socioeconomic transformation to match the idealism of our political transformation. A mind-set change is needed on all sides to forge a more prosperous future together. Government must accept responsibility for the successes and failures of the past 21 years and commit to a new start in education.

The education system, including higher education, must acknowledge it is time to provide intellectual leadership to effect radical transformation. The private sector must also accept the responsibility to forge partnerships with the education and training system for more effective talent and skills development.

As parents and grandparents, we must rouse ourselves and stop tolerating an education and training system that is failing our children and grandchildren. We need to accept responsibility for doing more to hold our institutions and government accountable for promoting the radical change needed.

What must be done? First, we need government to make a national call to action to provide free, high-quality education and training for all children and young people. There are many international examples of successful models, including the Australian one.

An additional 1% solidarity tax for the next 10 years for those earning more than R500 000 a year will close the funding gap. But a corruption-proof mechanism is needed to manage such a fund. This must be modelled on the world-class renewable energy feed-in tariff system run jointly by Treasury and the department of energy.

Second, linking free higher education and training to a two- to three-year national service programme is highly desirable. National service must be performed in professional areas of competence to provide a steady stream of public servants in key areas where current shortages are crippling.

Third, we need transformation of education curriculums to prepare young people for their roles as citizens in the 21st century. What and how we teach should create an ecosystem for promoting enquiring minds and more self-confident teachers and learners.

Fourth, we need a second-chance education for the millions of young people who have dropped out of the system that provides on-the-job training opportunities linked to areas of need.

Redirecting an estimated R10 billion of the annual skills fund generated from the 1% of payroll away from the overcapitalised and high-operational-cost sector education and training authorities would meet the funding requirements for this.

Partnerships with the private sector are essential to make this a seamless transition for unemployed young people to attain skills in demand.

We have made the commitment to transform our society. We have the resources to invest in the most precious commonwealth of our nation. Our children and youth deserve no less. What is needed is the political will. Are we ready?

Ramphele is an active citizen

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