Students who have enrolled to study at Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) colleges should not feel inadequate as their skills are invaluable to the economy.
This reasurance comes as student bodies and opposition parties demand fundamental changes in the sector.
Higher Education minister Naledi Pandor encouraged students at the Coastal KZN TVET College in Durban to believe in the colleges.
TVET colleges have recently come under the spotlight for employing under-qualified lecturers and using outdated curricula.
Pandor told students that TVET colleges were not meant to be like universities and did not aspire to be such.
“TVET is not a Cinderella sector in South Africa. We provide vocational training. We want you contribute to this economy not only as employees but also as employers.”
Pandor said the department was exploring options to enhance curricula.
“When you pursue a diploma in hospitality, you mostly study French or Portuguese, and have at least one international language to make you more attractive to the job market.
“We want to modernise technical and vocational training.”
Pandor said the department has set plans re-brand TVET colleges as first choices.
“Too many South African student want to go to university and too few are choosing colleges. We want to have the largest number of students in the future. That is where the skills to grow the economy will come from.”
Pandor said the government also planned to introduce centres of specialisation in the TVET sector.
“We want specialised focus on plumbers, electricians, mechanical engineers and so on.”
However DA youth leader Yusuf Cassim argued that it is with good reason that the most students rejected TVET colleges.
He said the curricula taught was a “shame, outdated” and condemned young people to a life of unemployment. “We’ve been saying for years that the curriculum needs to be more relevant. We also said the quality of lecturers is poor.”
Cassim lamented that the government was preoccupied with making grand promises but failed to invest in improving infrastructure in TVET colleges.
Last year, the South African Further Education and Training Students Association (Safetsa) shut down some TVET colleges. They demanded that the department address the question of unqualified lectures, delays in issuing of certificates for courses completed, and inadequate funding for students by the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS).
Safetsa secretary-general Nomazizi Mzizi said Pandor was not taking the sector seriously.
“How do you speak about excellence in the sector when lecturers are not even qualified for the jobs they are in? You find a lecturer with an N4 certificate teaching students doing N5.”
Mzizi said they had also raised the issue of outdated curricula with the department but had not received a satisfying response.
“TVET colleges are dumping grounds. The minister is busy preaching about the fourth industrial revolution, but I can assure you the textbooks that are used are very ancient.”
She added that NSFAS continued to provide inadequate budgets for TVET students.
Meanwhile, the SA College Principals’ Organisation general-secretary Sam Zungu said the decision to establish centres of specialisation was an intervention meant to breach the gap between colleges and industry.
“We can’t deny that TVET colleges have not received attention over the years. But we have made strides to improve the quality of our education.
“There is a an effort being made to bring people with quality skills to teach in our institutions.”