Every year when South Africa announces its matric results, the country enters a hyperactivity of education discourse as analysts, politicians and civil society try to make sense of the numbers. As always, this year there was recognition of outstanding achievement in the public and private school systems, coupled with questions about the national pass rate, baccalaureate, subject choices and more. However, in our rush to project meaning onto the milestone, it is important to ask ourselves if we are missing an opportunity to democratize the way we assign skills.
Nyari Samushonga, CEO of WeThinkCode_
Make no mistake, the country needs excellence and high achievement in matric and other studies should be celebrated. It’s only fair that we appreciate the impressive training of neurosurgeons, lawyers, engineers, mothers, fathers, etc. However, in our stage mindset, did we start closing the door too soon? Isn’t it a bit extreme to close off access to future learning opportunities based on a young person’s performance on this test alone? Are we too rigid in what we communicate to high school leavers about viable options for their future?
It’s a minefield to cross. Unemployment figures from Statistics SA have clearly shown that levels of youth unemployment are inversely proportional to the level of education. Graduates are the least unemployed, followed by those with a post-matric degree, then those with only a degree. Youngsters who don’t have a matrix have heavily weighted statistical odds against them. It is against this deplorable backdrop that we have, perhaps unconsciously, developed an obsession with educational milestones – as if they alone will solve our unsustainable, global unemployment rate.
This couldn’t be further from the truth. This is perhaps most clearly demonstrated in a series of interactions WeThinkCode_ has had recently with various stakeholders in our journey to develop an accredited licensing program, in addition to our accreditation, which we currently offer to our students.
Learning is a lifelong journey
One feeling we continue to encounter is this tunnel vision of the path one should follow from high school to college and work. Any professional will tell you that learning a trade is a lifelong journey and much of the skill is learned not in the classroom but on the job. Not just from the speaker, but also from the many people you collaborate with in your work. And yet, we continue to insist that a matrix score alone is a fair and appropriate indicator of a teenager’s performance or poor performance in a job.
We believe it is enough to condemn dozens of young people to a life without access to further education. However, if we read this against a reality of only 37% of people entering the education system passing the matric and, worse, only 6% of South African adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher , it seems like a stretch to fuel the narrative that academic effort is the only possible route out of the unemployment queue. Which begs the question, how can we begin to create a more inclusive perspective on competence without compromising its core concepts?
To be fair, following the traditional academic trajectory currently represents the best possible chance of securing a stable professional future in South Africa. However, I would say there needs to be a paradigm shift among all stakeholders when it comes to allocating skills within the workforce. This change sheds light on the main mission of our academy. We are driven by the belief that talent can come from anywhere, that with the right opportunity it can flourish and in the right environment it can acquire the tools and skills to be job ready. .
Besides being a ladder towards the development of professionals in all fields, education should also prepare young people for the world of work, not just an exam. It should be about empowering young people to be productive. Passing or failing, six honors or an E average, present a milestone but they do not accurately mark measurable job readiness.
Return to the matrix class of 2021: Those who have achieved outstanding performances will probably expect a good run in their careers. Those who did not get a college exemption, or those who did not pass, will likely believe that their future is bleak.
The reality is that life is deliberately getting harder for people who have failed or performed poorly in matriculation. These young people will constitute the majority of those who are lost in the unemployment statistics. It is not surprising that we, or even the young people themselves, think they have missed the opportunity for a better life. However, as more institutions like ours create accessible and sustainable pathways to meaningful employment, I hope more young people will realize that they have options. Options even after failing matrix. Options even after passing the matric and still not being able to pursue a particular degree due to limited resources, and options even after graduating and things didn’t work out halfway for a any reason.
So how do different stakeholders begin to change this paradigm? How to broaden practically and systematically the perspectives of competence without compromising its true definition?
Business leaders, recruiters, and team leaders can become intentional about opening up their supply pools to slowly test the theory that competence isn’t necessarily a particular qualification of a particular institution. We’ve worked with a number of organizations over the years that have integrated WeThinkCode_ students into their graduate programs to see first-hand how they stack up against their academic peers.
High schools, especially those in underserved communities and even private schools that have scholarship programs to accommodate students from underserved communities, can begin to expose students to their options by introducing them to non-traditional pathways. We partner with various schools and youth development programs to engage talented young people in previously underappreciated groups.
Finally, and more ambitiously, perhaps the government, legislature, and credentialing bodies can explore new pathways that allow high school graduates to advance into meaningful employment despite the lack of matric qualifications. Although our program at WeThinkCode_ is open to anyone between the ages of 17 and 35 with or without a matric, those who do not have a matric gain the same skills on the program but do not necessarily have access to the same work opportunities afterwards. the program. As we do not have a matrix, we are unable to give them the formal accreditation offered by the program.
Of course, a paradigm shift like this isn’t unique to the IT or coding industry. It can and should be applied to a wide range of society. There is a strong argument to be made that while milestones are important measurements and measuring tools, a more holistic approach to developing readiness for a productive life should underpin all education.
This state of mind aims to restore dignity. We tend to be punitive and one-dimensional about milestones like exams and prescribe a “you’re worthy” or “you’re not worthy” badge.
Embracing this alternative mindset in no way underestimates the importance of quality basic and tertiary education. It’s about expanding the criteria we use to award skill and decide who deserves a chance. There are a multitude of environmental factors that may or may not have contributed to a learner’s performance on a single exam. Let us congratulate those who achieve, work to improve education in all its forms, and live by the principle that everyone deserves a chance to be prepared for a productive life.