FETs must up their game

Friday, September 3, 2010

Johannesburg - Further Education and Training (FET) colleges must be radically overhauled so that they can become colleges of choice for school leavers while providing quality foundation programmes with particular focus on maths and science.

This is according to Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande, who said they would need to widen the scope and see the challenges facing the FET sector, as part of a multifaceted process to revamp and rejuvenate the entire post schooling and training system.

"We cannot deal with the colleges in isolation from the challenges in the rest of the education system," Ndzimande said at the FET College Summit on Friday.

The summit brings together education expects with the view to improve the status and effectiveness of the FET which has been characterised by low pass rates, poor planning and financial mismanagement.

South Africa has about 50 of these state-funded colleges and government has for years struggled to revitalise the system, despite spending R1.5 billion on the colleges between 2006 and 2008, upgrading everything from teaching skills to workshops and laboratories.

Nzimande told the gathering that the overhaul of this FET system is non-negotiable and the summit will look at finding concrete solution to these problems.

The department intends to increase enrolment from 400 000 to one million by 2015. It will also finalise a national policy outlining the minimum entry requirements to university study requiring the national vocational certificate offered at colleges, said Ndzimande.

He explained that particular focus will be placed on improving governance and management capacity, as well as training of college lecturers and improving the skills of existing lecturers through universities and industry.

The minister, who will take over the sector education and training authorities (Setas), mentioned that he wants experienced workers without matric, or matriculants without exemptions, to study at universities.

He said there was a need to recognise prior learning for adults without formal university entrance qualifications to enter higher education institutions.

FET colleges must be accessible to both youth and adults, he said, adding that they are well positioned to contribute to the acute middle-levels skills crisis.

"Increased access to FETs would have the social benefit of including young people currently not in education, employment or training in opportunities to participate by studying in work-oriented programmes," the minister said.

Data indicates that of the 2.8 million South Africans between the ages 18 and 24 (in 2007) not in employment, education or training, two million (about 71 percent) had not achieved Grade 12. Of these about 18 percent had not even progressed beyond primary level.

"The college community therefore, in my view, must expand its horizons and see the world...they must understand that our broad goal is to develop the economy in a way that responds to the needs of all South Africans."

He said FETs would also need to provide training programmes that are needed in the real world in order to sustain livelihoods for many who are unemployed.