Lessening the sting of unemployment

Thursday, March 3, 2022

While unemployment continues to present a thorn in South Africa’s flesh, government efforts to address this scourge is helping to lessen its sting.

The Department of Basic Education’s Basic Education Employment Initiative (BEEI) is contributing to the fight against unemployment. The initiative enables unemployed youth to become education assistants and general school assistants as part of the Presidential Youth Employment Initiative (PYEI), which forms part of the Presidential Employment Stimulus (PES).

For one to qualify as an education assistant, they must have passed matric English, while an NQF Level 4, 6 and 7 qualification certificate, will be an added advantage.

The PES was set up in 2020 in response to the devastating impact of the Coronavirus pandemic on employment.

Applications for the second phase, which opened on 27 September, closed on 10 October 2021 and successful candidates have been placed in schools across the country for the duration of five months, which started in November last year.

Charmaine Afucara is among the 287 000 young people aged between 18 and 35 currently benefitting from the initiative that has provided the much-needed vacancies.

She is employed at Magigwana Secondary School in Mpumalanga as an education assistant who helps teachers with the marking of learners’ books.

“I also help learners with reading since some of them don't find it easy to understand certain words and sometimes I teach the pupils if a teacher is not in, or when a teacher is having other things to do like attending meetings.

Afucara comes from a disadvantaged background.

“Life was very tough for me because I was not getting any money from anyone. Being one of the 287 000 young people chosen for the second phase of this programme has made me realise that you don't have to earn more money to be happy in life, small things matters,” she tells SAnews.

The 22-year-old who is fond of teaching and helping learners, had been volunteering at another school prior to her obtaining the teacher assistant post.

Through the government initiative, Afucara is now able to provide for her family.

“The opportunity helped me because since I graduated I found it hard to get a job and I'm the only person whom my family is looking up to. Since I got this opportunity, I am now able to provide for my family.”

Afucara hopes to impart the kind of knowledge and wisdom that will help learners to achieve and reach their goals.

For Tumelo Mlambo who lives in Athol Village, Mpumalanga the opportunity could not have come at a better time.

“Before becoming an assistant teacher, I was not doing anything but hustling. I felt very fortunate to be one of the thousands to be part of the programme. I heard about the programme from the SA Youth Facebook page and I seized the opportunity.”

Mlambo, who also works at Magigwana, is tasked with assisting the school’s English teachers with activities and helps pupils who have challenges with the language.

“I’ve learnt a lot during this time hopefully this will help me further. I want the pupils to gain a lot from me not only academically, but also with their personal problems,” says the 30-year-old.

The initiative has also provided a lifeline for three Gauteng based education assistants. Cli-Ann Symons, Charlene Kaye and Clarissa Mouton are also currently benefitting from the initiative.

The three assistants recounted bouts of depression prior to their appointments.

WATCH |  Cli-Ann Symons  Charlene Kaye  Clarissa Mouton

“The unemployment was hard to bear; I did odd jobs here and there and ended up working at a family catering business. That’s where I got most of my work experience,” says Symons.

Having stayed home for a while, the 24-year-old heard about the education assistants’ posts from a friend and applied on the SA Youth website.

Symons, who holds an Honours degree, did not think that she will get into the programme.

“Eventually when I got the call, I was very surprised but I immediately told myself that I need to do well for the interview. I feel honoured to be part of the group that was chosen for this programme. Being an assistant has taught me a lot, the unemployment phase used to affect me mentally and emotionally, and as hard as it was, I am happy that I am here now.”

Her responsibilities include assisting teachers with their general administration in class as well as office work.

“I work more with the teachers as well as the students, helping with their learning materials, getting pupils to class, and also helping with lesson planning as well as disciplining the pupils on school grounds. We are very hands on with helping the teachers.”

Meanwhile, Kaye had previously worked for a pharmacy on a contract basis before she was retrenched at the start of the country’s COVID-19 lockdown in March 2020.

“For the whole of 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic I was unemployed and depressed because I had children to feed. My husband was the only one working at the time. I saw the teacher assistant post on the SA Youth Facebook account and I applied for it. I was very thrilled when I received the SMS that I must report for duty at Prosperitus School [in Pretoria] and that is where it all started,” says the 34-year-old.

Invaluable experience

The initiative is providing invaluable experience to participants.

“It was all joy when I got the news because sitting at home is not good; it’s not even about the money but the experience one gets while employed. What I love about this experience is that our duties are not limited to a certain thing but every day there is something new to do and learn,” says Kaye.

Originally from Cape Town, the 33-year-old Mouton relocated to Pretoria in 2011 in a bid to look for a job. She then worked at a medical company until 2014 when she was retrenched. In order to make ends meet, she started doing people’s hair while continuing her job search.

“As a single parent I took whatever odd jobs I came across. During the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, I was working at a pie place as a cashier for two years but I was retrenched. I stayed home for about a year. I saw the education assistant vacancy on Facebook and I applied and I got the job,” she said.

Mouton said she started working at the school as a brigade sanitising pupils and making sure that all the learners are in their respective classes.

She expressed her gratitude to government for coming up with the initiative to help deal with the unemployment challenge.

Looking to the future

Mouton, who wants to one day become a professional teacher, is grateful that she is able to wake up in the morning with purpose.

“I am learning a lot and the experience has also taught me to be calm and patient which is something I did not possess before working at the school. The experience has made me realise that I actually want to see myself as a professional teacher in the next coming years,” she says.

Mouton has encouraged those who are unemployed to keep on applying and not lose hope.

The first two phases of the Presidential Employment Stimulus programmes have supported over 850 000 work opportunities. 

In his State of the Nation Address (SONA) recently, President Cyril Ramaphosa said more than 80% of participants were young people and over 60% were women.

The total number of direct beneficiaries will soon rise to over one million South Africans. 

“This includes over half a million young people appointed as education assistants, making it the largest youth employment programme ever undertaken in our history,” he said.

According to the President, the total number of direct beneficiaries of the programmes will soon rise to over one million South Africans.

It will take time to address the challenge of unemployment fully in the country; however, such initiatives are making an impact. - SAnews.gov.za