Empowering our youth through learning opportunities

Empowering our youth through learning opportunitiesBy Senzeni Ngubani

Over our democratic journey South Africa has made strong inroads in educating our young people. We have opened the doors of learning by expanding education opportunities to all citizens as envisioned in the Freedom Charter.

Our determination to expand education opportunities is aimed at undoing the legacy of the apartheid era, during which the majority of people were denied equal education opportunities for decades.

The apartheid government made it clear that the education of black South Africans, under the Bantu Education Act, was to teach African learners to assume positions of servitude and manual labour, regardless of their individual abilities and aspirations.

Infamously known as the architect of apartheid, Hendrik Verwoerd stated: “What is the use of teaching the Bantu child mathematics when it cannot use it in practice?” These utterances were not only disturbing but they propelled young people to stand against the injustices of apartheid and to fight for education that would be accessible to all.

The election of a democratic government in 1994 brought about fundamental changes in the education system.  Education, starting from primary to higher or tertiary learning, was now no longer an elitist preserve since government made commitments to expand access to all.

This includes introducing a no-fee school policy and financially assisting disadvantaged students through the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS). At present, NSFAS is funding 1.1 million students and has an estimated budget allocation of R47, 6 billion for the 2023 academic year.

Aspiring students who have a household income of less that R350 000 and wish to further their studies at public universities or Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) colleges, qualify to apply. Students are encouraged to access NSFAS online for more details on eligibility for funding and application processes.

Youth can enhance their knowledge and skills through our TVET colleges. Importantly, it affords young people who have fallen out of the education system a second opportunity to complete their education. Students who have left school after grade 9 and are 16 years and older can access these colleges to gain skills, practical training and experience.

Government is working to improve the accessibility of TVET colleges by expanding specialised TVET colleges across the country. Today there are over 50 accredited TVET colleges with more than 364 campuses. We encourage our youth looking to further their education to enrol at their nearest TVET college.  In the current academic year, there were more than 550 000 enrolments at our TVET colleagues.

Our TVET colleges have also partnered with the private sector to facilitate training and workplace experience for students, with the aim of tackling the skills shortage in South Africa.

Youth can also gain occupational experience and enhance their skills through on the job training, which often presents itself in the form of learnerships, mentorships and internships.  Young people can learn from volunteering their services which will allow them to sharpen their skills and gain learning experience whilst developing their communities.

Government encourages our youth to take hold of the learning opportunities available to them as it can open doors for their future success. When young people are equipped with knowledge, there are no limits to what we can achieve as a nation.