Creating inclusive adult learning opportunities in South Africa

by Marieke Vandeweyer

The South African labour market has been faced with high levels of unemployment for many years. In the final quarter of 2018, 6.1 million South Africans were unemployed, representing 27% of the labour force. A further 2.8 million people were willing to work but not actively looking for a job (i.e. discouraged job seekers). Unemployment affects young South Africans in particular. The youth unemployment rate is as high as 55%, and reaches a staggering 66% when adding discouraged job seekers.

Despite a positive impact on labour market outcomes, skills development remains limited

As in most OECD countries, the risk of unemployment in South Africa falls with educational attainment. Adults with a university degree have an unemployment rate of 6.7% compared with 28% for adults with at most an upper-secondary degree. Educational attainment is rising, but many students still leave initial education without an upper secondary degree: around 19 million South African adults, or 57% of the South African adult population, do not hold one. At the same time, the quality of education lags behind that in other countries at similar levels of development.

Today, opportunities for adults to participate in training after leaving initial education are scarce. Around 275 000 adults participate in second chance education at the primary and secondary education level, and a further 250 000 participate in training opportunities funded by the skills development levy paid by employers. While participation in training under the levy system expanded strongly in recent years, it still covers only a tiny proportion of the total labour force (1.1%). Providing more and better second chance education and training opportunities could be of considerable help to adults who are in need of up-skilling or re-skilling to gain sustained access to jobs.

The new Community Education and Training system has the potential to facilitate access to training for low-skilled adults

In an effort to foster and facilitate lifelong learning, the existing adult education and training system is gradually being transformed into a Community Education and Training system. This transformed system will offer a wider variety of education and training programmes, including vocational and non-formal training, in line with the needs of communities. The government has set an ambitious target of 1 million students by 2030 for the new system. Reaching this target while ensuring that training is relevant and of high quality will be challenging, especially given the limited public resources devoted to it.

The new OECD report “Getting Skills Right: Community Education and Training in South Africa” assesses the potential role of Community Education and Training in improving access to inclusive adult learning opportunities.

Strong coordination is crucial for the success of Community Education and Training

One clear message that emerges throughout the report is the need for strong coordination and cooperation between the Community Education and Training system and other relevant stakeholders. Many actors are currently providing or financing training activities for job seekers and workers, and rather than duplicating what they are already doing, the new system should bring those actors together and better inform youth and adults about existing training opportunities. The Community Education and Training system does not need to re-invent the wheel; rather it should bring transparency into the existing training offer, fill the gaps in this training offer and facilitate access to training for low-skilled adults. To make this system work, the OECD report recommends that:

  • Community Education and Training institutions should not only be offering education and training opportunities, but should also be places where youth and adults can obtain information about further education and training and labour market opportunities, and where recognition of prior learning can take place.
  • The funds collected from employers through the skills development levy must be used more effectively, and the National Skills Fund needs to focus more on training opportunities for disadvantaged groups.
  • Community Education and Training institutions should have sufficient flexibility to adapt the training offer and content to the needs and realities in their communities.
  • Quality should be enhanced by ensuring that teachers have the relevant skills to deliver a diversified set of programmes to adult learners and that management and support staff have the capabilities to fulfil their new and broader roles.
  • An adequate and transparent quality assurance mechanisms needs to be put in place to ensure high quality provision.

The Getting Skills Right: Community Education and Training in South Africa report provides more detailed recommendations on the different programmes and services that could be provided in Community Education and Training institutions, how to ensure that they are of high quality and responsive to the needs of communities, and which financial resources to mobilise to satisfy key investment needs.

This work was prepared with the support of the JPMorgan Chase Foundation

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