A Look at the FET Colleges

2014-01-02 19:27

We are at the beginning of another year – the year 2014. The beginning of a new year for most young people is important. This is the time when life decisions are made. In South Africa over half a million students have set for high school senior certificate examinations at the end of 2013. Some will pass well, and a whole lot will get an insignificant passes while others get total fail.

The sad reality is that the majority of those students who will get hopeless passes or get total fails are Black Africans in the masses. It is generally accepted and entrenched in the South African psyche that in every aspect of life in society Black Africans come number last. During apartheid we blamed it on the cruel Apartheid Government – but now there is no Apartheid Government anymore. We have a government but it is not Apartheid. So we cannot blame apartheid. It will be absurd if we blame Apartheid.

We have to take responsibility and acknowledge that things have not changed very much for the black African communities since the dawn of democracy. There are a number of basic issues that could have been done that would have gone a long way in improving the situation of black African communities. For example within a few years of the whole 18 years of democratic dispensation, we could have ensured that there is no pupil learning under trees and textbooks are delivered on time. Those two issues could have been achieved within a period of 5 years in the maximum. As things stands now the only hope for the majority of Black African students is the government Further Education and Training (FET) Colleges. The mission of government FETs is simply to provide further education and training to those who might not have it.

Compared to traditional universities and universities of technology, a government FET college has several importance to the black African students. For several reasons; some of them are as follows:

Firstly is that within the FET there is an overall open admission policy, they are no stringent admission criteria or aptitudes tests, you submit you academic statement and the same day you get a student number and student card. It is very easier for students to enroll regardless of their prior academic records and performance.

Secondly as more Black African students come from very poor shanty communities the government FET colleges have lower tuition and other fees; this is attractive to majority of black African parents with their generally low incomes.

Thirdly FET colleges have a more flexible curriculum (the curriculum is not in-depth with complex theories), and class schedule, with no strict disciplinary rules and codes of behavior that you often find in traditional universities and universities of technology.

It is clear that government FET Colleges provide pathways for majority of black people coming from poor backgrounds to get exposure to further training beyond high school. But is the system workable and helpful? To the few African students who are disciplined and hard working it does help.

But sadly at the whole comprehensive broad scheme of things, studies have demonstrated that despite the Minister of Higher Education and Training going up and down talking about the importance and role of FET colleges, the reality on the ground in the government FET campuses shows that most public FET colleges are stagnating with low quality and low standards. The FET academic faculty is underpaid and under qualified, and therefore that has impact in their general morale and well being the situation that affects their teaching; another issue is that there are no essential up to standard and workable campus amenities to develop students beyond the class activities. Laboratories and equipment are outdated and obsolete with negative consequences to students. For example a student training as a plumber will have very difficulty in getting a job or opening small business as he is trained on outdated plumbing apparatus and tools that are unworkable in the modern world. So the FET colleges fall short on the general philosophy of further and higher education, namely: Educate Energize and Inspire.

How we incorporate and integrate the black African students from severe poor shanty communities into every facet of South African mainstream economy—and prepare them for a job market that increasingly relies on skilled workers—will determine the economic future of our country.

The Transformation of Higher Education in the late 90s and subsequent mergers of universities early 2000s could have focused on radical shaking of FET colleges for the better. The FET colleges could have been made to become part of the traditional universities that are located in their vicinity. In this case the university faculties that are often highly qualified could also teach the FET classes. In this way the established disciplined culture of learning that one gets in universities could have been extended to FET colleges. The move could also have also enforced the effective university administrative and quality assurance systems at the door step of FET colleges.

As is the case now government FET colleges have a negative stigma and most students registering do not complete their studies and those who complete their studies get rusted away eventually because of lack of jobs afterwards. The Government interns and learnership programme is skewed in support of students from traditional universities and universities of technology.

But more importantly within the Black African communities the culture of learning which is about hard work, dedication and self discipline needs to be instilled across the country. It is seriously lacking. To most youth life is about parties, dancing, and reckless self indulgence, getting drunk and passing out, with no concern of the future. There is a need for a re-orientation of the Black African mind. Because the consequences are there, we see the consequences everyday – in every aspect of life Black African people are behind including in education. I have given this aspect of the state and plight of the Black African people serious consideration. All of us should seek hard solutions as a matter of concern and worry.

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