Curriculum needs overhaul to address future skills deficit

SA's future workforce must acquire skills to ensure they remain relevant in the fourth industrial revolution.
SA's future workforce must acquire skills to ensure they remain relevant in the fourth industrial revolution.

South Africa's school curriculum needs some changes so that the future workforce meets the skills requirements of the fourth industrial revolution.

So said telecoms and postal services minister Siyabonga Cwele, pointing to the fact that the curriculum does not equip young people with the skills needed to do jobs of the future.

There have also been calls across the industry for a comprehensive plan to develop more appropriate education programmes to meet the skills requirements of the fourth industrial revolution.

"When we look at the current workforce, we know it needs an intensive reskilling programme," said Cwele.

"We need to prepare our future workforce...students and learners from our schools need to acquire key skills from basic education level.

"If you look at the UK or Germany, for example, they train children from a young age, but for us it starts at high school or university level. We have to change our curriculum a bit."

More than a bit

Moira de Roche, independent learning specialist and director of the Institute of IT Professionals SA, agrees there is a need to change the curriculum, but more than just "a bit".

"In an industry 4.0 world, the curriculum should be reviewed all the time, and set up in such a way that it is easy to implement. Change in Industry 4.0 is exponential, not linear. Curriculum change should follow suit."

De Roche says in changing the curriculum to address the country's skills challenges, some hard decisions must be made.

She gives the example of how teaching Delphi as the programming language at school should be one of those changes.

Delphi is defined as an integrated development environment for rapid application development of desktop, mobile, Web and console software.

"There is no demand for Delphi skills; here or anywhere. We also need to look at the soft or life skills needed for Industry 4.0, such as critical thinking, ethics and empathy. These skills can't easily be automated. Policy-makers must look at what is needed and try to achieve a balance between traditional content subjects like history and geography, and the new skills, with added emphasis on STEM skills."

The country's declining pass rate in subjects such as mathematics and science, which are considered critical for STEM skills, has been openly criticised.

The waning performance in these subjects has contributed to the lack of progress in the research and innovation human capital pipeline over the past decade, according to the 2016 South African Science, Technology and Innovation indicators report.

Holistic solutions

While there have been utterances from government about plans to introduce basic coding in the school's curriculum to future-proof children, some analysts say learning must be a holistic approach.

To deal with the skills deficit, De Roche advises, learners must be equipped with skills they can use now, and that will equip them to survive in a time of rapid technological change.

"In an ideal world, learners would leave school with at least one skill which will enable them to be economically active and survive in a technology-driven world. Tertiary education should be viewed as an opportunity to add more specialisation but not be the only option."

Education can include subjects such as creative endeavours, scientific discovery, creative writing, entrepreneurship, social interaction, and physical dexterity and mobility, she adds.

At higher education level, minister Naledi Pandor is of the view that technical vocational education and training (TVET) colleges must become part of SA's skills development drive.

According to Pandor, the TVET college system must be more responsive to industry needs and deliver real high-level, quality occupational programmes.

"I want to see increasingly the TVET sector becoming a confident, able and very visible part of the skills institutions in South Africa. I want you to stop being shy cousins and be very visible leaders in skills development in South Africa."

She emphasised that government's intention is to produce young people with high-level marketable and relevant skills. "If we produce skilled young persons, we will be responding to the full challenge that confronts our nation and economy," she states.

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