Cadres can ruin but not run an education system

Belinda Bozzoli says ANC rule has been disastrous for skills training in South Africa

Speech by Belinda Bozzoli MP, DA Shadow Minister for Higher Education, National Assembly, 28 March 2018

Total change is needed in skills education in South Africa

This week Business Day had two substantial articles in it on the so-called fourth industrial revolution. They talk of smart cities, information and communication technology, logistics, biotechnology, artificial intelligence, 3d printing, nanotechnology, energy storage and robotics. The ANC is going to love that. We will hear the phrase “fourth industrial revolution” frequently over the next year or so, you can be sure.

And yet we live in a country that is struggling to develop. It has high unemployment and low skills levels. Its education system is floundering. Its manufacturing has declined. Its economy is stuck somewhere in the mid twentieth century. The 21st century fourth industrial revolution is a fantasy. It can’t produce the skilled people to drive the second and third industrial revolution, yet alone the fourth.

What would such a country do if – as we do - it had R15bn a year to spend on skills education.

Here’s what the DA will do:

Our approach will be driven by the idea of Global Excellence.

We will get advice from the best people in the world on the skills of the 21st Century and how to develop them. We will set up a huge, modern and formalized apprenticeship system, and a range of internationally accredited ICT and allied training programmes. We will establish links between schooling, Colleges and Universities of Technology, so a proper pipeline is created

We will make sure the skills we develop encompass all the most important and up to date industrial and commercial needs that a modern economy has. The information economy will be taken seriously and skills provided for it. We will make sure our own and international top companies help us devise our skills strategy

We will adopt an inclusive and diverse approach including the best people in the country irrespective of their race. We will get rid of mediocre institutions such as individual poor performing SETAs and failing TVETs. We will insist on excellence. We will be ruthless with poor curricula and outdated training.

We will make sure all skills training is done on a two-track system – practical training on the one hand, and theoretical training on the other, as in the best training systems in the world. We will make sure every work place – and there are a million workplaces in South Africa - has one or more apprentices. We will incentivize workplaces to incorporate apprentices for their practical training. We will make sure every apprentice receives theory training at up to date colleges and training schools. We will assess where we are short of people to do the training and bring in international trainers on special visas where necessary.

Over time we will develop a system which produces award-winning well-trained people able to work in basic manufacturing and other sectors, as well as the most advanced manufacturing and information industries. Our economy will benefit hugely from this, unemployment will be reduced and 21st century economic growth will be stimulated.

Instead, we are stuck with the ANCs approach. I call this the Nationalized Honeypot approach. With their R15bn they have pursued a xenophobic, parochial, outdated and mediocre system based on redistributive principles. The funds are distributed extremely thinly over a vast range of institutions and organisations. This is designed to give all and sundry a tiny piece of the pie, and to keep the cadres happy.

The ANC doesn’t really like excellence. It suffers from a very bad case of the “tall poppy” syndrome. They pretend to take advice from those who know best, through a body – the Human Resources Development Council - which has been chaired for the past several years by none other than Cyril Ramaphosa himself. But they get embroiled in a web of plans, strategies, turnaround strategies, summits, conferences and consultations - typical of the Ramaphosa approach to problems. It leads nowhere.

They think nothing of consigning to oblivion anybody who is not black African and preferably ANC aligned, however highly skilled they might be, thus losing the skills of thousands of willing participants in making the system work. In Reiger Park in my Constituency hundreds of highly qualified artisans remain excluded from the economy, a pattern which is repeated throughout the country.

They treat the private sector with disdain and dislike, alienating them from participating actively in the skills education being funded through the levy the private sector itself provides

They have ruined some of the best TVET Colleges, emptying them of older experienced staff and filling them with cadres. The Tshwane South College is a case in point. From being one of the most outstanding Colleges in the country it is now a protest ridden and possibly corrupt mess. They have presided over the mediocrity of the rest of the colleges, and persistently failed to act to revamp and modernize their outdated curricula

Through the SETAs they have operated a largely corrupt patronage system, which has given thousands of tiny grants to micro-training institutions that are not properly accredited. This simply reproduces unemployability.

The ANCs inherent xenophobia and parochialism means that it refuses to seek trainers from outside the country. They believe arrogantly that they can do it all themselves. They can’t.

Sadly, this is now the system we are saddled with. It is wasteful, of poor quality and outdated. The R15bn we have for skills – more than is given annually to 17 universities combined – is spread so thinly that it might as well be a social grant rather than an educational input. Excellent people – local and foreign – are excluded from the system

Most skills training is done without a practical component at all: industry is alienated from participating, and the new generation of lecturers and trainers often have no practical experience themselves. Quality control is dubious. Corruption is rife.

The ANC will never be able to fix this system. It has created a patronage monster. There are too many vested interests, going deep into the system. The so called New Dawn is presided over by the very man who has failed to get skills education moving in the first place. All we can see on the horizon are more summits, plans, conferences, indabas and further plans.

The ANC is trapped by its own approach to this pot of funding – it sees it as a honeypot to which all of its members, acolytes and friends are attracted, and which must be used to keep them all happy as far as possible. You can’t run a training system like this.

What we need is a total change in skills education. The DA can offer it. The ANC cannot.