The current South African education system has a serious deficit in producing graduates who can create value instead of job seekers. This is the observation made by Thulile Khanyile, a teacher, researcher and lecturer who reflected on the impact the Covid-19 pandemic has on her work.
She said like most sectors her work was severely disrupted and she too had to adapt and transition to online platforms as mode of knowledge transfer. But even though she is able to connect and deliver her lecture, Khanyile said still free prefers face-to-face teaching. I have just “realised just how much seeing my students enabled me to deliver my content more meaningfully”, she said
Khanyile said that undergraduate students “should always have the option to attend physical lectures”, adding that: “I’m generally comfortable with public speaking and the arty side of me comes alive in the presence of an audience.”
She said the provision of education via online platform requires “tons of data to enable students to gain the knowledge”, and that telecommunication companies should be a key part of this initiative.
“Data should be free to all registered students on the continent regardless of the presence or absence of a pandemic,” she said. But Khanyile said as “we consider the most effective operational model for knowledge transfer”, we don’t have to ignore the social challenges most of our students faced during lockdown restriction periods.
Some of these, she noted, included the girl child and women in the home setting whose domestic responsibilities continue to take away from their knowledge consuming time and process.
Said Khanyile: “Online knowledge transfer platforms are effective and must continue beyond the pandemic. However, if administered in ways that do not consider [social challenges] and many other circumstances, the most marginalised and resource starved of our students, particularly girls and young women may realise even less career advancement than we currently observe.”
She added that the way knowledge is acquired through the current education system from early childhood development up to doctoral level needs an intervention. Khanyile said she realised the need to change education system while working in a team developing a TB diagnostic tool and its subsequent commercialisation.
This made me aware of the deficit in a value creation mindset within the education system, she said. “It was only at that point that I began to think about how academia is underutilised for value creation and how its’ mandate does not speak to our current challenges of job creation and poverty alleviation,” said Khanyile.
She said academic institutions need to transform and align their programmes to accommodate the importance of knowledge economy as well as the significance of new technologies of digitisation, automation and the related innovations.
Khanyile said also noted that there is already a move towards adopting and developing research outcomes and outputs that can be commercialised and of greater value to the people.
However, she said the move towards commercialising research outputs should result “in job creation and poverty alleviation”. But she said currently “what academia does well is to create job seekers which the COVID-19 pandemic has further highlighted as a significant challenge”.
Said Khanyile: “There are more people looking for employment than those creating employment which is indicative of how successful our institutions are at creating job seekers. The operational model of education and academia responds to generating employees and this needs to change.”
Academia should foster a way of thinking that yields individuals with the ability to create value, she said, even if that value is to create systems and environments that make value creation for economic growth a reality.
Khanyile noted that with the growing number of challenges facing society we ought to be more deliberate about developing and priming the mindset of ordinary citizens towards identifying and creating solutions that contribute to the development of the knowledge economy.
“The education system including academia should seek to develop a balance between generating employees and employers. Achieving this balance is possible and a model we can prototype and scale already exist,” she concluded.