President Cyril Ramaphosa highlighted five new goals for the state in his State of the Nation address in June, with two of these directly linked to education. With a focus on improving educational outcomes and the inevitable impact this will have on employment, there is clarity on what needs to be achieved. How we get there is the question.

The education crisis can’t be solved by government alone but rather, all parties with a vested interest. From teachers and parents to the private sector and the state, all will need to work collectively to overcome one of SA’s greatest challenges, thereby unlocking the potential that lies within our young population.

“There’s a gap between the skills we need and the skills we have. As a country, we need to think about where our economy is going and what skills we need at foundation, high school, undergraduate and post-graduate level. Then we need to consciously build the school curriculum to make sure we deliver these skill sets,” said Khanyi Nzukuma, current CEO of Glacier by Sanlam and former high school teacher.

Nzukuma was speaking at a recent debate called ‘Macro conversations in micro spaces’ aimed at unpacking how the youth can be better prepared for the jobs of the future. Hosted by Sanlam in collaboration with the iMadiba Project, the topical conversation was facilitated by Primedia’s Africa Melane. Fellow panellists included educational psychologist and life coach Dr Tshepiso Matentjie; 2018 Global Teen Leader, author, Google Science Fair Grand Prize Winner and Times Top 30 Most Influential Teen Kiara Nirghin; and lecturer and founder of Mentor Me to Success Nosipho Bele.

Here are some of the key takeout’s for key stakeholders in education – parents, NGOs, teachers, government and the private sector:

Enable STEM learning from early on
Nirghin – a Stanford student and the youngest panel member at just 18 – said she believes her future job will be in computer science and biotechnology. She emphasised the importance of all children learning STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects as early on as possible, “I think when you don’t have girls involved in STEM, what you basically have is a country that has half the amount of innovation that it could possibly have.” She also said that as 80% of the jobs today are not going to be jobs in 20 years’ time, it’s vital to teach kids how to question, “Teaching teachers how to mentor children to allow them to explore and ask questions; that’s what our schools need.” The reality is that not all children will pursue STEM careers, but parents have a fundamental role to play in fostering curiosity.

Mentorship can play meaningful role in future success
Agreeing with the critical role mentorship can play, Nosipho Bele added that a lot of it comes down to showing children – from poorer communities especially – what’s possible. “The vision for Mentor Me to Success involves young people helping other young people. For example, a second-year university student might help a matric student to register, get into university and apply for funding. That sort of ripple effect becomes very important.”

Hard and soft skills important in equal measure
While the importance of hard skills within digital-age-ready education is evident, the power of soft skills should not be underestimated. These skills such as empathy, creativity, strategy and critical thinking are what is predicted to differentiate humans from machines. Nzukuma added, “Aligned with President Ramaphosa’s directive, we need to give youth the best possible chance of sustained employability in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The best way to do that is through education that instils the right hard and soft skills.”

Parents are a critical link
Parents are uniquely positioned to play an impactful role in developing soft skills in a child. But Dr Tshepiso Matentjie said that many parents are preoccupied with just putting food on the table and focussing on getting their kids to pass – not necessarily the Fourth Industrial Revolution. “We need to have more of these kinds of conversations. Parents especially, because the types of conversations you have within your home environment can make a child believe ‘I can do more’.”

Hands-on, local solutions starting from foundation
Matentjie said she has three things she’d like to discuss with President Ramaphosa:
• Early childhood development: “That’s where we fail most of the kids. We fail them in stimulating their brains to make sense of things.”
• Teacher salaries: “We need to take care of our teachers because if they’re not feeling taken care of, they’re not going to show that love and care for the kids that they’re teaching.”
• Indigenous knowledge systems: “We are in Africa. It’s the most exciting place to be. We keep looking at outside and first world countries to develop what it is that we need to do in terms of our education and economies and we borrow. What about cultivating it here? How can we develop the innovations we need at home?”

She concluded that the only way to learn is to get your hands dirty. We need to help learners to be writing business plans by the time they finish matric. So, our young people can create the small businesses our economy needs.

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