Millions of young South Africans are not in employment, education or training. The situation is worse for African and coloured youth, with unemployment rates well in excess of 50%. To turn this situation around, our economic policies need to prioritise and focus on South Africa’s youth. Our policies must be judged on the extent to which they create more employment and education opportunities for young people.
We need to begin to do things differently to make sure that we bring more young people into the mainstream of our economy. We know that some form of experience in the labour market assists young people in securing future gainful employment. A young person who has never had a job, or has experienced a prolonged period of unemployment, has poor employment prospects.
Government and business, supported by labour, are working on an initiative to give unemployed youth an opportunity to gain work experience. The Youth Employment Service (YES) plans to touch the lives of one million young South Africans over three years by providing them with paid one-year internships and learnerships in established firms. The technical work on establishing YES is nearing completion and the programme should begin running in the new year. This will provide great opportunities for one million young people over a three-year period.
South Africa requires a skills revolution to equip our young people with the know-how required to participate and compete successfully in the modern global economy and the unfolding fourth industrial revolution, which is being driven by rapid advances in digital and other technologies.
Young South Africans need to be trained in a range of emerging new disciplines from computer sciences and biotechnology, to nanotechnology, coding, robotics and artificial intelligence. Research chairs focused on these emerging 21st century technologies should be established at our higher education institutions to give our economy the skills and dynamism it needs to be competitive.
For South Africa to prosper we must lay the foundation for improving education outcomes by focusing on early childhood development programmes and on the nutrition of pregnant women. Only on a firm pre-school foundation, can the quality of basic education be radically improved. That is why the National Development Plan (NDP) articulates a vision for universal access to two years of early childhood development.
However, the terrible weaknesses in basic education learning and teaching have to be tackled simultaneously and decisively. Democratic South Africa may have done well in expanding access to schooling by ensuring a high proportion of early enrolment of girls and boys, but we are have failed to make commensurate progress in the delivery of quality education.
A new deal for our children requires that we set specific targets to improve our education system and that we pursue these targets with an uncompromising focus. For example, the NDP recommends that we target learner retention rates of 90%. It further recommends that we do whatever it takes to rapidly increase the number of students achieving grades of above 50% in literacy and mathematics.
Significant investment is required into teacher training and teacher incentives and management. More investment is also required to improve school infrastructure to ensure that public school libraries, labs, sanitation and security are brought up to an acceptable standard, one which is conducive to a culture of excellence in learning and teaching. Good results are evident where this is being done through the efforts of various non-governmental stakeholders working together with government.
Another national priority concerns our ongoing interventions to improve how we finance student access to higher education. If we want to build a more equal society in South Africa, it is important that access to higher education should not be denied to those from low income families.
The economic development of young people must be at the centre of our planning for employment creation, land reform, the development of small businesses and cooperatives and the reform of state owned companies. The youth must also be a major factor when we develop industrial, mining, tourism and ICT policy. It is only through a new deal that prioritises the inclusion of young people that we will improve the lives of our people and secure a prosperous future for our country.