Art is the solution to SA’s ‘decade of action’ in education and re-skilling

Vusi Mfupi at St Martins De Porres, for the Room 13 Inspiration Day in Soweto
Vusi Mfupi at St Martins De Porres, for the Room 13 Inspiration Day in Soweto

South Africa is ranked 80th out of 82 countries in the education access category as well as the education quality and equity category.

In turn, the country boasts the highest unemployment levels in the rankings, anchored by an unemployment rate for citizens with a basic education of 33.3% and for those with intermediate education at 28.5%.

The World Economic Forum’s (WEF’s) Re-skilling Revolution platform may be rooted on the premise that without action, the next generation will be ill prepared for the needs of the future, which creates risks for both productivity and social cohesion.

But for South Africa the stakes are even higher if the country does not cease this opportunity to find equal footing and emerge with a workforce able to practice soft skills that will get the economy back on track as it becomes globally competitive again.

With creativity and empathy considered as important as artificial intelligence as skills of the immediate future, the country is already seeing a growing disconnect between education systems and the labour markets.

Young people today face a paradigm shift as they become students gearing up for new jobs that do not yet exist, with an increased pressure on both digital and social-emotional skills in the coming years.

TBWA\South Africa, through its work with Room 13 SA, is a school-based network of arts studios that is about developing and empowering children to become the best that they can be, acknowledges that visual arts teach pupils about developing their self-esteem, finding a sense of purpose and in expressing themselves.

Locally, the advantage of seeding these vital soft skills organically within the school curricular is missed, and results in the country’s stumbling block of being on the back foot of technology.

While South Africa’s global competitiveness remains impaired by escalating electricity and connectivity issues, the guiding philosophy of ubuntu makes natural to its citizens the soft skills, required to catch up and get ahead.

If public and private sector leaders come together to co-create education systems that deliver on pupils’ needs for the future and look to scaling programmes such as Room 13 SA through the ministries of both basic and higher education.

In making meaningful progress in reskilling the world and for South Africa to become commercially viable, it is especially important to focus on the fastest-growing jobs of the future.

A report from the WEF notes that much of the anticipated jobs growth will come from the seven professional areas of care, engineering and cloud computing, sales marketing and content, data and AI, green jobs, people and culture, and specialised project managers.

All these are benchmarked through an inherent application of creative thinking and empathy to the bigger picture.

The early development of motor skills, language skills, social skills, decision-making, risk-taking and inventiveness, which can be taught and instilled through arts instruction, is essential to meeting the demands of the new global market.

Playing its part, each Room 13 studio is run by an artist-in-residence who facilities the activities, based on their own skills and the interests of the children.

Vusi Mfupi, a former Room 13 artist-in-residence for six-and-a-half years at Sapebuso Primary School in Orlando West, Soweto, notes that the creation of a marketplace for connectivity, collaboration and learning is the real crystalline moment of the programme.

During Mfupi’s tenure, he encouraged the entrepreneurial aspect of his studio – which is a Room 13 pillar – and they would create for the sake of art, as well as sell the learners work within their immediate community.

From the money collectively made, the youngsters would get more supplies to run studio as well as assist in funding afternoon meals for the programme.

With most of the young people coming from underprivileged backgrounds, Mfupi credits Room 13 for developing creative problem-solving skills and equipping the youngsters with the ability to present difficult concepts visually, making them more easy to understand.

Tshepang Thulo, a third year visual arts and design student at the Vaal University of Technology in Vanderbijlpark, who attended the Room 13 studio at Amohelang Intermediate School in Botshabelo in the Free State, agrees.

Having been part of the programme from 2009 to 2012, he attributes art as having influenced both his life and career choice.

Thulo said that through improving his skills, vocabulary, he learnt that there are many ways of achieving one’s dreams if you apply yourself innovatively and creatively.

He learnt that there are diverse career opportunities for artists – such as being a curator, an illustrator, a police sketch artist (forensic artist) and more.

Thulo believes that had he not been introduced to art via Room 13, his life would be remarkably different.

The WEF notes that as jobs are transformed by the technologies of the fourth industrial revolution, more than one billion people will need to be re-skilled by 2030. And in the next two years – by 2022 – 42% of core skills required to perform existing jobs are expected to have changed.

The eager matric class of last year, who achieved an improved pass rate of 81.3%, will be short-lived this week as only a handful of the 409 804 pupils, can be accommodated by our institutions of higher learning.

What then of those who don’t get a place? Do they have the vigour of soft skills that will propel them to take on the world with limited resources and succeed?

The next generation deserves our collective efforts to lead them with a synergised plan of action, which includes art in schools that will equip them for jobs of the future, from early on.

  • Ntombi Malaza is the project manager at Room 13, and head of brand TBWA\South Africa
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