SOUTH AFRICA: Career guidance for higher education

A career guidance campaign named after Nelson Mandela - and launched today on his 92nd birthday - aims to mobilise South Africans in the higher education and training sectors and in the professions to assist school pupils with information on universities and colleges. The idea is for better guidance to help students make appropriate study choices, optimise their job opportunities and reduce high drop-out rates.

In November last year, the United Nations General Assembly voted to declare 18 July as Nelson Mandela International Day in recognition of the former president and global icon's life's work and struggle for human rights, global peace and freedom.

In South Africa, the Mandela Day campaign encourages people to use 67 minutes of their time to support a charity or to perform community service. The 67 minutes represents the number of years the former president spent fighting for human rights.

Minister of Higher Education and Training, Dr Blade Nzimande, announced in his budget speech in March that the South African Qualifications Authority, or SAQA, would launch a national career advice centre this month.

The ministerial flagship programme dedicated to Mandela calls on people countrywide to dedicate 67 minutes of public service to career advice.

"What will make this event particularly special for the learners is that advice will be provided by a range of South African personalities who have pledged their 67 minutes of public service on Mandela Day to career guidance," said Nzimande. Also, 67 bursaries from a range of institutions will be awarded to students for the 2011 academic year.

The Nelson Mandela Career Guidance Campaign will particularly target rural students and will impart information on tertiary institutions, courses and training opportunities, and financial aid and bursary schemes.

"There has been limited career guidance at schools," department spokesperson Ranjeni Munusamy told University World News. "This administration has recognised the important role of career guidance in assisting young people to shape their life paths by exploring the spectrum of post-school education and training opportunities while they are still at high school."

In a statement Munusamy said lack of career guidance was most serious in townships and rural areas and among children living in poor socio-economic conditions. "Access to career guidance is particularly important for children whose parents are unemployed or have limited formal education experience. These children tend to have low exposure to career information as it is not within their experience. The challenge is to break this inter-generational trend."

The career guidance campaign will also help tackle the problem of students not applying to universities for admission on time, and school-leavers enrolling on any course available.

"Lack of guidance, hearsay, family pressures and incorrect information also results in long queues at universities and universities of technology, and fewer numbers exploring other education and training opportunities such as a college education and learnerships," she said.

The consequences have been limited career choices, lack of opportunities to obtain funding and huge numbers of school-leavers not entering training and struggling to find jobs. It has been estimated that there are 2.8 million South Africans between the ages of 18 and 24 years who are not in training or employment.

"Our goal is to absorb these young people into the post-school education and training system and to prevent more young people emerging from the schooling system annually from joining this cohort," said Blade Nzimande, who has been championing the empowerment of young people through skills acquisition.

Career guidance is provided by many organisations including schools, universities and NGOs but the intention of the present career guidance centre initiative is to make these services more visible to everyone, explained Siphokazi Phillip, spokesperson of SAQA, which launched a career advice helpline this month.

"The dropout and failure rates in our universities and colleges, however, indicate that more work still needs to be done in this area," Phillip told University World News. The SAQA career service will be nationally accessible to people of all ages and can be accessed by phone, SMS, Facebook, e-mail, letter, or in person.

"It also provides a resource for career advisers and others who want to assist learners with information on universities and colleges, qualifications, skills programmes and training opportunities. Anyone who is volunteering time may answer questions and we will monitor the answers provided," said Phillip.

"Learners need to know that they can approach their institutions and ask for career advice." Phillip added that the new initiative will also help learners to connect with the career advisers in institutions.

Career guidance starts with educators. We all agree that most parents are either illiterate or just do not have information themselves. Institutions of higher learning are relevant partners in these endeavours. They allocate huge budgets in marketing in general and community outreach in particular. Most of the South African institutions of higher learning are affiliated to Career Exhibitions and Information Association (CEIA). This organisation organises exhibitions and school visits in collabration with Department of Education and other NGO/CBO/community centers nationally.

But we need to go beyond mere career guidance, to look at ways of exposing young people to the industrial world as early as possible. By so doing you bridge the gap between theory and practice (classroom and real world) The question of intern services must be negotiated between involved stakeholders. By so doing we shall not only be focusing on choices but on deeper understanding of such choices, issues of possible dropout/failure rate and better skilling when times of fuller employment arrive. Most of us who care shall be available for any round table talks and implementation of this noble idea

Setlatjile-Mayishebe Setlatjle