- Only when I was 23 I decided I wanted to become an educator. I dropped-out of school at 17. Since then, I had engaged in a non-accredited training programme and in a fantastic social service opportunity through which I found my dream career. Dreams might fade if they are not accompanied by confidence and direction towards their achievement. It almost happened to me. My confidence went down when I was told that exams to enter higher education were very difficult; I got lost trying to find out what my study options were, and ended up very skeptical that I could have any options at all. At the end, the only reason I sat for admission exams was that I had already paid the fees. I passed the exams, was admitted in the Faculty of Educational Sciences and five years later I graduated as a pedagogue. Since then, my career has allowed me to go beyond my dreams, and I have wondered a million times where would I be if I had not paid those fees.
I think career guidance could have spared me much of the difficulties I went through. In the same way, I think career guidance can make a difference today for those who are unskilled and discouraged as I was back then. How?
Firstly, by being a source of hope. As the psychotherapist V. Frankl said, “Any effort to empower youth, or adults – in this case to reach their fullest career potential – starts by helping them envisage a goal, a concrete objective in the future they can start working for today.” To do so, career guidance shall develop a solid basis to sustain career dreams by fostering self-knowledge, self-compassion, self-determination and resilience.
Secondly, career guidance can make a difference by enabling its participants to focus thoughts, emotions and actions in what they can do in the present to move towards their preferred future. “The future depends on what you do today”, Gandhi said. This can be done through career coaching and mentoring aimed not only at setting and accomplishing objectives, but also at being vigilant to make the most of unplanned events that might lead to the expansion of career perspectives and possibilities.
Thirdly, career guidance is about developing competences for solution-building rather than problem-solving. Present career circumstances, it does not matter how bad they might look, are always a starting point and not a dead end. Career guidance can contribute to a better future by exploring current resources and future hopes rather than present problems and past causes.
Fourth, career guidance can make a difference by focusing not only in helping individuals to access the labour market, but also in building their capacity to transform it. Career guidance shall enhance social justice by addressing structural barriers for career development, such as gender-based discrimination or poverty. Career guidance could also raise awareness about how a chosen career path may contribute to foster or hinder environmental sustainability.
The four principles highlighted above are the ones governing the ‘GPS to a better future’, a career development programme aimed at empowering youth and adults to reach their career goals by mapping successful, sustainable and socially just career paths. A GPS system in our car is there to take us to the programmed destination. ‘The GPS to a better future’ is there to enable its participants to reach their chosen career destination, and to do it in a manner that do not only benefit them, but also the communities they live in. Started in 2009, the programme has received the 2011 Ministry of Education of Spain Award to Innovation and Quality in Career Guidance. In 2012, Educaweb, a leading international career guidance organisation, awarded the programme with a second-place Prize to Innovative Academic and Professional Career Guidance. The results obtained in 2012 and 2013 show that 91 percent of its participants either continue studying or progress to new education levels. Besides, a 95 percent of its participants considered the program useful and gave it an average satisfaction score of 89 percent.
At present, we are working to tailor the ‘GPS to a better future’ to the needs and strengths of South African FET learners. The upcoming 1st Annual National FET Conference 2013 Conference will provide an excellent opportunity to share ideas on how the programme can make a difference in their lives.
- Carme Martínez-Roca is executive director at the International Foundation for Interdisciplinary Health Promotion. Come and meet Martinez-Roca at the 1st Annual National FET Conference 2013. Her organisation is the International Foundation for Interdisciplinary Health Promotion.
- The National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) fully supports the notion of increased access to career advice for South African youth. NSFAS administers loans and bursaries to disadvantaged students for tertiary study, but in addition to the economic support offered by our organisation, NSFAS further deems it of utmost importance to liaise with key partners in the field of career guidance to offer a more holistic approach to further education in South Africa.
Without adequate study guidance from a young age, many youth remain unaware about their options to pursue further education regardless of their financial need. In an effort to bridge this gap and to ensure greater support of uninformed youth, as of 2011 NSFAS will be partnering with a key organisation in this industry, namely, the SAQA Career Advice Centre. This Centre offers learners information on career planning, study options, financing and more and provides a hotline number for telephone queries on 0860 111 673 and an SMS line on 072 204 5056.
In addition, NSFAS continues to build solid relationships with partners and NGOs with present access into rural and disadvantaged communities around South Africa. These partners play critical roles in distributing information about NSFAS financial aid to impoverished societies as well as offering increased learning and social support of youth with an interest in further education.
Why is it important to reach rural youth?
The youth in poor and rural communities often lack exposure to media such as the Internet, newspapers, television and public libraries. As a result they may not be well informed about higher education opportunities, financial aid available to them, or different career options.
Role models play an important role in assisting young people in making decisions about future careers. Rural, marginalised youth, however, seldom have the opportunity to meet people working in fields they may dream about. After all, a remote rural community is unlikely to include a Chartered Accountant, a mechanical engineer – or even a plumber.
Many school leavers are further excluded from higher education because they cannot afford the application and registration fees or even travel costs to the institution. Given all of these inhibiting factors, the chances of success for marginalised students can thus be greatly improved if access to higher education includes a more holistic package of academic and personal support in addition to the NSFAS award in order to bridge any gaps that may exist.
The aim of NSFAS is thus to encourage existing organisations with a focus on youth development in outlying or poorer communities to partner with us. Together we can create awareness and access for the youth of these areas to pursue tertiary studies without the burden of financial need.
Finding hope through despair
Isaah Alexy Mhlanga was one such financially deprived learner from Soweto who thought he would have to rely on good academic performance alone to ensure a place to study after school because he came from a financially needy family. His father could not afford university fees but thanks to the support he received from Investec Bank’s CSI department, Isaah qualified for funding administered through one of the partner organisations of NSFAS, namely Studietrust, and NSFAS was further able to assist Isaah with his study related costs to complete his undergraduate degree in Economics. And while studying, he came third in the Nedbank and Old Mutual Budget Speech competition, and got the chance to meet the then Finance Minister, Trevor Manuel.
Every learner has the right to access education and with the help of NSFAS and its partner organisations, thousands of needy learners like Isaah are daily hearing about the possibilities of further education and financial aid to pursue their dream careers. Isaah’s advice to young people: “Get those results - good results - and don't give up. Do your research and apply for bursaries or financial aid as early as you can.” Today he is employed as an economist for the International Monetary Fund www.imf.org.
How can your organisation partner with NSFAS?
If your NGO or careers advice centre is currently involved in youth-related work, and if you have the capacity to assist NSFAS www.nsfas.org.za in creating awareness about study options and financial assistance to benefit youth from outlying, rural or deprived communities in South Africa, contact the Communications and Outreach Officer at NSFAS, Bonny Feldman, on firstname.lastname@example.org to find out how you can be a part of implementing change in South Africa.
- Bonny Feldman is communications and outreach officer at NSFAS.
- South Africa is getting obsessed with the improved matric results while no attention is given to career guidance. Lack of career guidance at our schools is evident when year after year the majority of these matriculants flock to universities while further education (FET) training colleges are far from achieving government’s target of enrolling one million learners by 2015.
Despite losing days of learning due to last year’s public sector strike, one can safely say the 67.8 percent pass rate reflects the level of commitment on the part of the matriculants, teachers and the Department of Basic Education.
However, a large number of learners will not be able to pursue their studies at institutions of higher learning due to lack of career guidance at schools. Proper career guidance would have assisted many of these students with early applications at universities and/or further education and training colleges, selection of career paths at an early stage, and with more career options other than enrolling at these institutions. I strongly believe that proper career guidance would have at least made this situation manageable for learners and the institutions of higher learning.
Our education system should prepare the learners at least from Grade 10 onwards when it comes to choosing career paths. In order to achieve this, the schools should dedicate the beginning of every year to career guidance or include it in the curriculum. This will allow learners to select subjects that are in line with their future plans. Moreover, career guidance could go a long way in giving the learners the confidence to decide where they want to be in future.
In my encounters, I came across a number of matriculants who did not have a clue about their career ambitions. This does not paint a good picture for the entire country because it means that teachers do not prepare the learners for post-matric studies or they lack the capacity to offer career guidance to learners.
I recall one learner declaring that she does not intend furthering her education because she comes from an impoverished family. How many of these learners know the existence of the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS)? Is the Department of Higher Education and Training doing enough to encourage matriculants to study at institutions of higher learning? The reality is, poverty should never stand in the way of matriculants while funding schemes like NSFAS exist.
The NSFAS should also benefit those matriculants who are currently sitting at home with nothing to do. While we encourage matriculants to study subjects such as Mathematics and Science, we should always remember that some of these matriculants have good marks in these subjects. In situations like this, the Department of Higher Education and Training should take a stand and inform high school learners about the availability of bursaries and loans from government, the private sector and foreign funding agencies. Lack of information or access to information in rural areas has also been a contributing factor. How many of the rural areas in South Africa have libraries?
In a press statement earlier this month, Higher Education and Training Minister, Blade Nzimande, presented all the right topics to navigate the learners through career options. The statement covered topics with information on universities, FET colleges, financial assistance, skills development programmes, adult education centres and career advice services.
I am of the view that such topics should be covered in career exhibitions whereby public institutions of higher learning and funding agencies are invited to provide information about their programmes to learners.
Further education and training colleges should also encourage learners to enroll with them in order to reduce the influx of learners to the universities. Learners need to be made aware that FET colleges also offer programmes that could drive the growth of our economy. These programmes, which most of them are referred to as ‘scarce skills’, have the potential to equip them with the necessary skills to drive the economic growth of this country in future. This will help turn South Africa into a country which will no longer import skilled professionals.
Life Orientation teachers should take up the duty of career guidance. In addition, the government should deploy career counsellors to schools to offer career guidance to learners on a full-time basis. If government cannot afford employing career counsellors, it is best to have at least one career centre that will cater for schools in a specific region. In order to realise this, government should collaborate with communities, the private sector, civil society organisations and other stakeholders.
Standing together as a nation in navigating the right education for the careers of our learners could help build a country free from social ills such as poverty, unemployment and crime.
- Phumla Pearl Mhlanga is an intern at SANGONeT.