Sunday, July 11, 2010

Let Us Embrace the Values and Principles That Madiba Epitomises

Report back | by Blade Nzimande

Let us embrace the values and principles that Madiba epitomises

In November last year, the United Nations General Assembly voted unanimously to declare 18 July as Nelson Mandela Day in recognition of our former President and icon life's work and struggle for human rights, global peace and freedom.

July 18, as we all know is also Madiba's birthday which makes the day even more special. President Jacob Zuma introduced the concept of Mandela Day Campaign to motivate a nationwide campaign to get our citizens involved in charitable activities which embrace the values and principles that Madiba epitomises.

The Mandela Day Campaign encourages people to use 67 minutes of their time to support their chosen charity or to perform community service. The 67 minutes symbolically represents the number of years our former president spent fighting for human rights and the abolition of apartheid.

In tribute to Nelson Mandela's commitment to human rights, education, and youth development, the Department of Higher Education and Training is launching a Ministerial Flagship Programme on career guidance, particularly targeting learners in rural areas.

Last year we released the findings of a study by the Ford Foundation which showed that there are approximately 2.8 million young people between the age of 18 to 24 years old who are not in any form of education, employment or training. Our goal is to absorb these young people into the post school education and training system and to prevent more young people emerging from the schooling system annually from joining this cohort.

While we are working to improve the efficacy and efficiency of the National Student Financial Aid Scheme to assist more young people access post-school learning and training and to increase and diversify post-school options, we also face the challenge of high dropout and failure rates in our universities and colleges.

Contributing factors include, amongst others, poverty, lack of student accommodation and inadequate support to bridge the divide between school and institutions of higher learning. Our groundwork also reveals that a major contributor is the lack of information and guidance about what is needed at higher education and training institutions for enrolment and course requirements.

At the start of every academic year, we are also confronted with the problem of students who do not apply timeously to institutions for admission and young people desperate to enrol for any course that is available. The lack of guidance, hearsay, family pressures and incorrect information also results in long queues at universities and fewer numbers exploring other education and training opportunities, such as a college education and learnerships.

The consequences of this are no career planning, limited choices, and a narrow window of opportunity to obtain funding. Thousands more matriculants, without any form of training or experience, scramble to find jobs.

The problem of the lack of career guidance is especially prevalent in townships and rural areas and among children in poor socio-economic conditions. This entrenches the cycle of poverty, and makes human and social development in these areas extremely difficult. Access to career guidance is particularly important for children whose parents are unemployed or have limited formal education experience. These students tend to have low exposure to career information as it is not within their experience. The challenge is to break this inter-generational trend.

In recognition of all these challenges, we announced in the 2010/11 budget speech that the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) will launch a comprehensive national career advice centre through the medium of a career development helpline. This model will be accessible to learners across the country and will require coordinated actions across a range of departments. The helpline is now operational and a team of career guidance councillors is in place to assist learners seeking advice on post school opportunities.

The aim of the Nelson Mandela career guidance campaign is to mobilise people in the higher education and training sector as well as other professionals to assist high school learners with information on universities and colleges, course programmes, financial aid, bursary schemes and training opportunities. Information and guidance about the range of post-school school opportunities would help learners to better prepare for life after school and lead to less dropouts and improved employment prospects.

The annual campaign will commence next Sunday on Mandela Day at Giyani in Limpopo where about 1000 high school learners will receive information and advice on a spectrum of opportunities for higher learning and skills development to help them make their career choice.

The Department of Higher Education and Training is partnered in this initiative by a range of government organisations and institutions including SAQA, a number of Sector Education and Training Authorities, colleges, universities and professional organisations. What will make this event particularly special for the learners is that advice will be provided by a range of South African personalities who have pledged their 67 minutes of public service on Mandela Day to career guidance.

My Director-General, Professor Mary Metcalfe, and I will also provide career advice to the learners for 67 minutes. We will make available 67 bursaries from a range of institutions for learners from the area for the 2011 academic year.

We aim to expand this campaign annually to other deep rural areas and over the next year, we hope to mobilise all tiers of government in all provinces to participate.

So, on Mandela Day, I urge all professionals around our country to dedicate their 67 minutes of public service to career advice and help the next generation to access higher education and training opportunities.

Let the words of Comrade Nelson Mandela inspire us:

"Education is the great engine of personal development. It is through education that the daughter of a peasant can become a doctor, that the son of a mine worker can become the head of the mine, that a child of farmworkers can become the president of a great nation. It is what we make out of what we have, not what we are given, that separates one person from another."

We look forward to an exciting start to this campaign at the Letaba FET College in Giyani next Sunday. We urge all comrades to reach out to young people in their communities and help them map their career path.

Please give 67 minutes to change their lives!

Dr Blade Nzimande is an ANC NEC member and Minister of Higher Education and Training

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