Improving the country's skills development

Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa says government has embarked on a number of initiatives to improve the country’s skills base - key among them to get young people involved in the fields of science, technology and innovation.

The Deputy President said this when he fielded oral questions in the National Assembly in Parliament on Thursday.

“On an overall basis, we have embarked on a number of initiatives to ensure that that we [get] a number of people in our country into science, technology and innovation and we will start seeing the benefits of all this in the next few years as more and more of these young people become renowned scientists, become renowned academics with PHDs as we move ahead with greater success,” he said.

The Deputy President had been asked to provide the current status of skills development in the country in relation to meeting the research and development and innovative technology demands of the economy.

Deputy President Ramaphosa said Maths and Science studies are key to growth in the country. He said that is why the National Development Plan has set what one would call an ambitious target to increase the number of students who are eligible to study towards maths and science degrees by 2030.

The National Development Plan calls for the percentage of PhD qualifications in the higher education sector to be increased from the current 34% to over 75% by 2030.

“In a rapidly changing global economy where many traditional qualifications are continuously being displaced by technology, as we would have heard about the fourth industrial revolutions, it is critical that South Africa develops its scientific research capabilities and produces suitably qualified people who will play a key role in the evolving economy.

“That is why government is directing greater effort and more resources towards skills development in science, technology as well as innovation,” he said.

The Deputy President said since the advent of democracy, a lot of progress has been made in this regard.

He said the number of graduates who have done science, engineering and technology has increased from around 20 000 a year in 1994 to around 58 000 a year in 2015.

“This is phenomenal progress. But significant challenges still remain, particularly in the area of maths and science, which are still poor across our education system.

“Although the enrolment in science, engineering and technology in universities has been increasing, there are still only a few graduates who finally complete their studies.

“Less than 25% of students who enrol for a Bachelor of Science or Engineering degree actually finally graduate. Now this is a cause for concern.”

The Deputy President said many of these challenges were deeply rooted in the country’s basic education system, which is still feeling the after effects of the apartheid legacy that the country has been through.

To address this, the Deputy President said government has introduced a number of initiatives.

This includes government’s decision to increase grants to the provinces to promote teaching and learning of mathematics and science and technology.

“The Department of Basic Education also plans to award 38 000 Fundza Lushaka bursaries over the [next three years] at a cost of R3.3 billion… particularly in maths and science and technology.
“This is putting great resources to an area where we need to see great improvement,” he said.

The Deputy President also said to strengthen these efforts, the Human Resource Development Council of South Africa (HRBC) has established a mathematics and science serving committee consisting of seasoned academics as well as professionals to advise the HRBC on improving maths and science in our education.

“So as you can see, a number of initiatives are underway and in this regard, we are also working with the private sector to ensure that we do reach the highest levels of success in this regard.”
He said over 13 000 post graduate students and 796 post graduate fellows were awarded bursaries through the National Research Foundation.

More than 4 300 researchers were awarded research grants through the National Research Foundation to ensure that the country’s skills development programme meets the needs of an “innovative and dynamic economy”, the Deputy President said.

“Our SETAs are also doing a great deal of work in this regard.

“The private sector is doing some practical work for engineering students and ensuring that they get the necessary skills.” – SAnews.gov.za

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