Let’s educate the continent

Published: 26-OCT-04

If there is one sure way to address the problems of Africa, from poverty to a lack of leadership, it is through education and training. Africa needs a common vision of education and training to address the needs of the continent.” So says Marietta van Rooyen, a member of the Board of the South African Qualifications Authority, the highest educational authority in that country.

“This common vision needs to be structured in a way that addresses the individual needs of each country, but also unites Africa into a single qualifications framework.”

South Africa was fortunate to have the opportunity to redesign its entire education and training system. All stakeholders had to agree on the new system, and devise a strategy to set up the entire structure with all the underpinning legislation.

First, a discussion forum called the Skills Development Initiative was created. Major stakeholders were organised business and labour, the Departments of Education and of Labour, community organisations, and education and training associations.

Many stakeholders went on study tours to examine education systems in the rest of the world. South Africa was also awash with advisers and observers from other countries. In the end it was the UK system of National Vocational Qualifications and General National Vocational Qualifications that was found to approach the ideals of most stakeholder groupings.

Scotland, Australia and New Zealand all had innovative systems derived from the UK system, with various strengths and weaknesses. The labour unions and organised business went out of their way to study and analyse these systems to glean the best from them and to learn from their application.

By the end of the democratic elections in 1994, stakeholders in the Skills Development Initiative reached consensus on the basic principles and objectives of the new education, training and development (ETD) system in South Africa.

The three most important principles were:

1. An integrated approach to education and training

2. The principle of accumulating credits toward a qualification on a National Qualifications Framework (NQF), and

3. The basic format used would be outcomes-based (a variation on competency-based education and training).

The South African Qualifications Act (No. 58 of 1995) was the first in a series of Acts based on these discussions. The purpose was to provide for the development and implementation of a National Qualifications Framework and the establishment of a South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA).

Ten years down the line, South Africa has learnt a great deal from successes and failures in the implementation of their new outcomes-based education and training system. Subject-matter experts have generated thousands of national standards and qualifications in many occupations. SAQA set up quality assurance bodies and accredited them, thereafter monitoring and auditing these bodies for compliance against the legislation, regulations and objectives.

“With the call for an African Renaissance and continent-wide initiatives such as NEPAD and the AU, it has become apparent that South Africa needs to be integrated into the African continent,” says Marietta. “What we need is not a South African but an AFRICAN Qualifications Framework and a coordinating AFRICAN Qualifications Authority to be able to tap into the resources and knowledge of the entire continent. We need to share our experiences of negotiating and setting up transformational systems with each other. “Talks are under way between many of the qualifications bodies in African countries,” she adds. “Our political and business leaders must support and speed up these discussions. Clearly, the answer to many of our problems lies in education and training, and we can only improve and grow our capacity to educate and train our people if we all work together.”

Marietta van Rooyen is Chair of the Assessment College of South Africa, a company that specializes in advising on and setting up quality education and training systems. She can be contacted on

27 11 678 0126 or at

[email protected].

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