The Presidential Employment Stimulus (PES) sought to mitigate economic challenges brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic. One aspect of the stimulus package dealt with the provision of jobs for youth in South Africa. At the time, the country’s youth unemployment rate stood at a staggering 65.5%.
The Basic Education Employment Initiative (BEEI) aimed to create around 280 000 employment and training opportunities for young people in the education sector. Young people were employed in schools across the country as education and general school assistants.
Janine Biggs Jeffries was an education assistant at a school in Mitchells Plain in the Western Cape, the same school she attended as a child. Her responsibilities included completing administrative tasks, monitoring learners during breaks, screening children for Covid-19 compliance purposes and standing in when teachers were unavailable.
Janine said if she knew that she would have loved working with children as much as she did during the programme, she would have taken steps to forge a career in the education sector earlier.
She revealed the uncertainty around not knowing whether her contract would be renewed for subsequent phases was a cause for concern. This is because she enjoyed her role and if her contract had ended, she would no longer be working with children.
Janie said the BEEI programme inspired her to pursue a career in the education sector and is currently studying teaching.
Khwezilomso Ntshwanti worked as a teaching assistant in Ngqamakwe, Kotane in the Eastern Cape. Having previously worked as a tutor in the education sector, he never experienced any standout moments but admits he enjoyed the experience.
His responsibilities included completing administrative tasks, giving out exercises and tests and assisting with marking. He said it was a good experience overall, despite some of the challenges he experienced during the programme.
Khwezilomso acknowledged that sometimes it was challenging, as other assistants were expected to do a lot and not always under the best circumstances. Having obtained a qualification in Geology, he says being part of the programme influenced his future career plans and is currently working towards obtaining a Postgraduate Diploma in Education.
Thaania Toefy, who described her upbringing as sheltered, said working at a school in Salt River in the Western Cape allowed her to gain a new perspective on the circumstances children from less fortunate backgrounds experience.
She explained, “Something that will always get to me will be the stories that the children would tell you. The stories will seem horrifying or something you'd question about how the young kids would know about these topics, yet for them it's an everyday thing because that's their life.”
Thaania added that the programme allowed her to grow in life from being a naive teenager unsure which career path to follow, to now submitting an application to obtain an Education qualification to pursue a career in teaching.
We asked the participants if they believed other youth would benefit from the BEEI programme. This was what they had to say...
Well I would say it depends because you should have a passion for working with kids especially since you get kids coming from different environments as well and it's a job that requires patience. And doing this kind of work, you get to enrich and help shape their future. - Janine
Yes, because they would gain some working experience and also would have income for themselves. If they are interested, then they could do a degree in education. - Khwezilomso
Yes, I do think young people would benefit from the BEEI program. It gives you a really good insight into what it's like to be on the other side of the school scene. You're not the student, which you're used to being, but you're not the teacher either yet you get to observe what's happening. It helps you realise if it's something you'd be interested in or not. - Thaania
The education department recently made provision for the online training of participants to ensure they enhance their skills and empower themselves further. This is in the hope of increasing their employability once phase 3 of the programme comes to its conclusion later this year.