Southern Africa stabilising the higher education sector

By Thandisizwe Mgudlwa

“Education is the key to success in life, and teachers make a lasting impact in the lives of their students.”- Solomon Ortiz

And according to the Southern African Development Community (SADC), since the 1960s, enrolment rates in education throughout Southern Africa continue to skyrocket at all the different spheres of the system.

From primary education right through to tertiary and post-graduate level, Southern Africa shows great promise and a brighter future, as countries re-double their efforts to develop their education sectors.

With the mission statement of the SADC being “to promote sustainable and equitable economic growth and socio-economic development”, the greater vision, is to accomplish these through efficient productive systems; deeper co-operation and integration; good governance; and durable peace and security.

With the overall goal of making the region a competitive and effective player in international relations and the world economy at the level of Europe and the US, delivering on this mission will require, among other things, effective, efficient and high-quality higher education systems in the region.

These will build the human capital base needed for economic development, according to experts, as well as contribute to an informed citizenry, which lead to good governance, peace and security.

Global research, however, paints a sad picture about the state of education in the SADC region.

According to studies on SADC’s education development, “While these improvements are encouraging, the SADC region still falls far behind global and continental counterparts, particularly Europe and the US.

Essential though, is that the SADC is totally committed to improving access to quality education in the region, as evidenced by its Protocol on Education and Training, which was established in 1997.

Moreover, the study also reveals that education has significant benefits to human development along with its benefits to other sectors, with countries like South Africa, Botswana, Zambia and Namibia leading the pack in the region.

“Beyond increased general knowledge; an educated population is better equipped to address issues affecting the region, such as industrial development and poverty eradication in Southern Africa.”

An inspirational story, which attests to this, is that of Advocate Steve Kekana, renowned blind musician and University of South Africa (UNISA) lecturer in the College of Law, who is widely known for having successfully used his gifted abilities to overcome adversity and achieve his goals in life.

In celebrating his first anniversary as a lecturer in the Department of Mercantile Law, this was one of the lessons Kekana shared with his students.

Sharing the story of his journey, Kekana says, growing up, he was never interested in becoming a musician.

“My dream was to become a lawyer. However, I was forced by poverty to embark on a music career in order to fend for myself.”

As we now know, it turned out Kekana was a gifted singer and he is also a gifted lawyer. His story is evidence that a person can always attain their goals no matter how big the challenge or hurdle is.

Born in 1958 in Zebediela in Limpopo Province of South Africa, Kekana lost his sight at age five.

According to his biography, during his school years at Siloe School for the Blind, he learnt how to play guitar and nurtured his love for singing.

He was then recruited to join the school band and also became a member of amateur music groups. After completing high school he could not secure a scholarship to study law. So he was forced to sing in order to fend for himself.

In 1978, he recorded his first album, ‘Mumsy’, which went gold within two weeks. With 43 albums to his name, the singer and songwriter has since been a consistent force to reckon with in the South African music scene.

Having gained international acclaim with his music, Kekana is a Unisa lecturer in Mercantile Law while simultaneously working on his 44th album.

“I always had a desire to become a lawyer. I got my inspiration from Advocate Bokankatla Malatji, who is also blind and attended the same school as me. In 1972, he registered as the first black blind law student at Turfloop University, but because my family was poor, I could not register to study at university immediately after matriculating. I could only register in 1994, where I paid for my tuition in the first year with the money I saved. For the subsequent four years, I was sponsored by the Department of Labour.”

Moreover, a recent report on higher education in the region, highlights, “Even though it may not yet be championed and implemented to the extent that it should be, the fact that SADC members have committed to the SADC Protocol on Education and Training is an important starting point and provides the basis from which higher education in the region can build.”

The study continues, “Another important aspect is the relatively strong economic growth being experienced by SADC countries compared to European countries and the United States.

The newly discovered minerals in Zimbabwe, the oil boom in Angola, and the stable economies of Botswana, Mauritius and, to some extent, South Africa, are producing a conducive economic base off which higher education can play a greater role in both national and regional development,” the study adds.

The report further notes that “good relationships at the level of inter-country migration within the SADC region are facilitating the mobility of staff and students, since only a few countries require visas for citizens to move within the region. This aspect of regionalisation could be enhanced further to expand and support regional collaboration and co-operation between higher education institutions and academics”.

It concludes that, “Coupled with evidence of the forces of globalisation across all aspects of their economies, several African governments have not been able to break decisively with their colonial heritage. They also face other pressing societal needs. This has resulted in higher education systems being plagued by numerous challenges whilst simultaneously struggling to acquire much-needed financial and human resources in order to reposition themselves as a development force in the continent.”

According to a new report from City & Guilds, vocational education and training (VET) can significantly benefit individuals and businesses, but VET is not getting the traction and recognition needed to attract a large number of students.”

“The report explored the state of vocational education and training in four countries: South Africa, the United Kingdom, India and the United States. It highlights how VET can have a significant impact on economies across the world. For example, in the UK, a 10 percent increase in professional and technical skills over the next ten years could increase UK GDP by £163bn by 2025. In the UK and the US, a 10 percentage point increase in the number of 16-18 year olds enrolled in vocational education could lead to a 1.5 percentage point reduction in youth unemployment.”

Meanwhile, University of Cape Town’s Law graduate Mary Jiyani is the first female Malawian recipient of a Rhodes Scholarship.

She was also awarded the Mandela Rhodes Scholarship, which is to use in pursuing a master’s in Private Law and Human Rights at UCT in 2016. Among her many achievements, is winning the Ionnan Scholarship for Criminal Justice, an International Bar Association bursary and a class medal.

Jiyani has also made the dean’s merit list in every year of her undergraduate studies. She plans to study towards a Bachelor in Civil Law at Oxford University.

“The scholarship programme emphasises social responsibility. Recipients are urged to ‘fight the world’s fight’ and indeed many Rhodes scholars, such as Bram Fischer and Edwin Cameron, have gone on to lead lives that have had a great positive impact on their societies. This is what newly elected Rhodes scholars should aspire to do too.”

Prof Bhekisipho Twala, newly appointed head of the faculty of engineering at the University of Johannesburg, comments about the new super science venture, the Institute for Intelligent Systems, is being installed in the UJ’s faculty of engineering.

UJ reveals that the project brings science to Africa at the speed of light as globally interconnected computers join forces to tackle highly complex problems.

The institute will also draw lecturers, researchers and students primarily from Brics countries – Brazil, Russia, India, China and SA.

“Intelligent systems is a couple of steps up from artificial intelligence,” says Prof Twala.

Artificial intelligence “applies algorithms to superfast computers to arrive at outcomes in a fraction of the time it would take the human brain to complete the same task. This process becomes even faster and more thorough when you connect an armada of such machines to tackle the most complex and vexing problems known to man. The results are virtually unimaginable,” Twala says.

“We will confront complex challenges in society and industry where big data is available on the African continent and in Brazil, Russia, India, China and SA,” says Twala. “And we’ll do that by designing, building and implementing intelligent systems capable of learning and improving their own processes for the economic benefit and sustainable growth of diverse stakeholders.”

Meanwhile, Omar Naser an exchange student from Tripoli University who is doing his post-graduate studies at the University of the Western Cape, is clearly delighted with the standard he has encountered at UWC.

“It’s a great university. It is a well resourced campus with students center, sports, and other recreational facilities.

“The lecturers and staff are very good and supportive. UWC is truly a world-class university.”

June 2016
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