South African activist believes a university degree after 16 years of formal education can be counterproductive to young people’s potential
For the world to have a more sustainable education landscape, young people should have a choice to “exit” the traditional education model at an earlier age if they wish to pursue a more practical path, according to a young education activist who participated in a global discussion about the future of learning hosted by Qatar Foundation.
“If you don't see yourself in an academic career but want a more technical career, there should be the option of exiting the system before spending 12 years in formal education,” said South African student Obakeng Leseyane. “For instance, if you spend nine years in schooling and three years in training, you can start working professionally at an age when people normally start university.”
Leseyane works at the intersection of education and policy as a consultant and advisor, and is currently studying at the University of Witwatersrand (Wits). He is a graduate of the African Leadership Academy and has been recognized as the youngest inaugural Public Service Fellow at Apolitical Academy and ‘One to Watch’ by FastCompany in 2018.
He is a strong advocate of formal education and has founded EdConnect, an initiative that provides underserved communities with access to education in South Africa. However, he also believes that young people should have access to a less rigid education system that doesn’t mandate a certain number of school years for everyone.
I don't necessarily subscribe to the notion that young people have to wait for 12 years of schooling and then go to a four-year degree program to be able to add value to society
“I don't necessarily subscribe to the notion that young people have to wait for 12 years of schooling and then go to a four-year degree program to be able to add value to society,” explained Leseyane.
“Some of them will inevitably pursue entrepreneurship because they might have a bunch of technical skills that that can allow them to add immediate value to society, so why wait for 12 years?”
For a continent like Africa, where young people form a major chunk of the population and where unemployment rates are high, Leseyane believes the option for people to exit the traditional education system before the required 16 years and start working instead can boost the agriculture, mining, and manufacturing industries.
A very crucial element in terms of young people leading is them being able to engage in political systems, economic systems, and social systems
“Our universities already have very limited capacity in terms of how many people they can absorb. So, this way, you are not resting the burden of an entire country's young people's future on them being able to attain a college degree,” he said.
Asked about what’s stopping educational organizations from implementing these reforms, especially in Africa, Leseyane’s response is: “Firstly, I think it’s the lack of imagination, and secondly, the capacity to implement such ideas is very limited.
“In my view, we have largely incompetent political leaders and incompetent departments of the government in Africa, so many of them don't have the type of talent that they would require to even to explore some of these alternative models.”
The consequences of COVID-19 on education are an example of what happens when you don't pay attention to the social needs of students
Leseyane was one of the speakers at the latest online edition of Education City Speaker Series, a QF platform for global dialogue that brings together experts and thought leaders to discuss key global issues. During the event, Leseyane served as the voice of the youth on a panel that discussed how education needs to be disrupted, protected, and made more accessible and equitable in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
And he has emphasized the need to make educational systems more integrated with the real world, so students are repeatedly engaging with political, social, and economic realities.
“I think there's a lot of value in being able to lead, but a part of being able to lead is also being able to engage in various systems,” he said.
“A very crucial element in terms of young people leading is them being able to engage in political systems, economic systems, and social systems. So, for example, if we have a chance to take part in the national elections, that’s part of leadership.”
Leseyane believes education systems can also be made more integrated by factoring in students’ socio-economic realities, such as schools taking a more active role in recognizing the financial need of students or their parents, the technological capacity of households, or access to tools like computers and the internet. He added that while the world is championing the shift to online education due to COVID-19, the majority of students in Africa have been deprived of access to education because they don’t have internet access or computers at home.
“How am I going to study if I am hungry? How am I going to go to school if I don't have shelter?” he said.
“The consequences of COVID-19 on education are an example of what happens when you don't pay attention to the social needs of students, or don’t see socio-economic development as a form of access to education or an enabler for young people to succeed.”