Another academic chapter has closed, and while we reflect on the achievements of 2017, we also look toward the future.
It’s increasingly obvious that the way we do things is changing at a faster rate than ever before. Society, communities and businesses are advancing rapidly and becoming smarter. Take a look around you and notice the innovations, technological improvements and disruptions that are changing how we live and interact. But an area where South Africa is lagging behind, is in the field of education. Providing access to tertiary education for South Africa’s youth remains a priority, but what we fail to realise is that the current education curriculum prepares students for a work environment that is shifting so rapidly that it no longer demands the graduates that universities produce. Armed with a qualification for a discipline that is no longer needed, compounded by a swiftly-changing work environment, our youth are being set up for failure.
According to job advertising search engine, Adzuna, four out of the top five most in-demand jobs of 2017 in South Africa included roles stemming from the ICT the sector. Developers, Java developers, PHP developers and web developers were in demand, with only financial accountants being the ‘traditional’ job still sought after. So, it is clear that there needs to be a shift in thinking to prepare the current crop of school-goers and school-leavers for the world of tomorrow. How do we set our youth up for success – and not failure – in 2018 and beyond?
Developing our youth
Africa is expected to have the world’s largest working-age population of 1.1 billion by 2034. With its young population and growing labour force, Africa will take centre-stage to unleash youth development in a new way. An entrepreneurial culture should be instilled, along with problem-solving skills and critical and creative thinking, through learned experiences and mentoring. It is critical to unlock opportunities for the youth demographic if we want to see success in South Africa. This should be seen as an advantageous opportunity rather than a challenging problem.
Embracing urbanisation through sustainability
With 40% of the population living in cities, Africa is more urbanised than India (30%) and almost at par with China (45%). Furthermore, 60% - 64% of South Africa’s population is urbanised. Rapid urbanisation will create challenges for cities, but sustainable and well-managed cities will lay the foundation for fully-functional communities, inclusive working environments and, ultimately, for education to flourish. Universities will have a critical role to play in contributing to sustainable societies, in terms of its relationships with society, government, business and basic public services like health.
While mega-cities flourish and thrive, we need to turn our attention to underdeveloped, rural areas, and empower people to make a living and a success out of their hometowns and communities. People need to help each other to recognise opportunities in their communities and to turn assets into entities, to stem the mass exodus of people to major metropoles and to harness the human potential on their doorstep. Technology will play an influential role in connecting more people with each other, in uplifting and developing rural areas, and in providing the tools needed to run business ventures.
The role of universities in nurturing communities
Universities need to evolve as society evolves. In a discussion at the International PASCAL Conference in partnership with Belgium Campus and the University of Johannesburg, it was agreed that government, society, industry and academic managers must rethink how they can ensure that the current university will evolve into an entrepreneurial and engaged organisation, whose aim it is to strive for the authentic fulfilment and upliftment of the people and their communities.
Furthermore, universities should try to articulate their own identities as higher-learning institutions, and should work towards creating meaningful, localised curricula, rather than trying to emulate the models offered by International ranking systems, which often completely disregard the unique features and challenges of the African situation.
14th International PASCAL Observatory Conference 17-19 October 2017 Report: Trends 2017, Between Cities and the Rural: The Role of Universities in Developing our Societies