Learning is the key to self-sustainability

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By: Dennis George

As a Proponent of selfless leadership, I had no expectations of financial reward and public recognition when I was appointed to serve on the board of the South African Qualification Authority (Saqa) in 1995.

Like any other member of a board in the new dispensation, let alone one of the first trade union leaders (as Fedusa general secretary) to be on the Saqa board, the challenges my fellow board members and I faced were enormous. It was a period of pain and gain.
When we started with our work, there was a lot of resistance, as there still is today, to transformation. We had to start with the reform process to undo all the apartheid legislation affecting workers like, for instance, the Labour Relations Act, the Basic Condition of Employment Act and also the Board-Based Employment Act. Like any other government entity, Saqa had a challenge of under funding. It had limited resources and had to do with what it had.
 
However, by the time I completed the mandatory two terms of three years (1995 to 2001), we had made many strides in transforming the sector even though a lot still needed to be done.
 
Today, for instance, six million young people are out of work, the employment equity report shows that 70 percent of senior positions are filled by white males, and the fact that many companies are refusing to invest in the economy resulting in high unemployment and massive inequality.
 
So, It was a pleasant surprise and proud moment for me when the Saqa board decided to grant me a National Qualifications Framework (NQF) Award for my contribution on September 5, 2019, in Johannesburg.
 
Accepting that award from Saqa board chairperson, Dr Vuyelwa Toni-Penxa, for representing workers on the first and second board of Saqa, I truly felt honoured.
 
Receiving the NQF Award on September 5, 2019, was significant since the architect of apartheid and the Bantu education system, Dr Hendrik Verwoerd, was born on September 8, 1901, in Amsterdam, Netherlands.
 
Verwoerd argued that “there is no place for (the Bantu) in the European community above the level of certain forms of labour. “What is the use of teaching the Bantu child mathematics when it cannot use it in practice? That is quite absurd. Education must train people in accordance with their opportunities in life, according to the sphere in which they live”.
 
In a democratic South Africa, the first Board of Saqa in 1994, inherited from the apartheid era a racially segregated, unequal and unfair education and training system. Thus, in the apartheid system, most black people had been denied access to education, training, development and work opportunities. The quality assurance system was uneven and not transparent, whilst there was a general lack of parity between the different types of qualifications, learning and knowledge paths.
 
The Saqa board also found that most of the qualifications was not necessarily linked to specific learning pathways. Analysing the education and training scenario then, it became abundantly clear to me that the grand plan of the colonial masters was to subject our people to poverty and unemployment with no skills to participate in the economy. This perpetuated an inferior schooling system for the country’s majority.
 
Education expert Graeme Bloch postulates that in 1953, finances for black and white schools were separated, and black children were given significantly less than white children. In 1975/76, the state spent R644 annually on each white pupil, R189 per Indian pupil, R139 on a coloured pupil, and only R42 on an African pupil. To further aggravate the situation there was also a lack of black teachers, and many of those who were teaching were underqualified. In 1961, only 10 percent of black teachers held a matriculation certificate.
 
During Saqa board meetings, while the education experts debated the principles of the NQF, I said to myself that lifelong learning and recognition of prior learning must be incorporate in the new education and training system in order to undo the injustices of the Bantu education system of Verwoerd.
 
I then realised that redress should start with me, and if I don’t complete my studies then the evil apartheid spirit of Verwoerd would continue to live on. The NQF was my guiding instrument to contribute towards my personal development and to set an example for the youth of our country and that socio-economic development should birth from within each of us individually.
 
Part of my contribution as a social partner to the NQF, was my negotiation with the Commission for Conciliation Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) to ensure that Commissioner training courses are offered to trade union representatives. The challenge then was, the CCMA demanded that participants must pass the six subjects with a minimum of 60 percent pass rate. If you failed to achieve these results, the candidates were given one more opportunity to rewrite the examination a week later.
 
Many trade union representatives and I passed and some later became commissioners. The Labour Dispute Resolution Practice Programme, at present, is offered by five Universities in South Africa as a qualification at post-graduate level (NQF 8). My personal life-long learning journey continued, and, on September 17, 2014, I graduated with a master’s degree of Science in Management of Technology and Innovation.
 
Subsequent to that I further completed, a doctorate on September 18, 2018, with the doctoral thesis on “A Co-operation Implementation Framework: A Conceptual Framework to Achieve a New Social Accord in South Africa”.
 
Analysing the 2019 election results, there is a shift in politics amongst white South Africans, some of them hunger for the days of apartheid of white supremacy and “baaskap”.
 
The NQF has succeeded to transform the Bantu education system of Verwoerd. Reflecting on the recent past events, it gives me comfort knowing that my contribution to the NQF, all social partners, society at large, as well as my personal journey has changed many lives young and old in South Africa.
 
I encourage and challenge any young person to continue to further their education. My mission of lifelong learning is not done, I am a student pilot and hope to complete my private pilot licence in 2020.
 
In my new capacity, as independent non-executive director of AYO Technology Solutions and chairperson of the Social Ethics and Transformation committee, I continue in my pursuit of lifelong learning by fulfilling this task, through the Company Law and the Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment (B-BBEE) Act 53 of 2003.
 
Notwithstanding, the Seven Elements of the B-BBEE Scorecard relating to Ownership, Management, Employment Equity, Skills Development, Preferential Procurement, Enterprise Development and Socio-economic Development to advance lifelong learning as well as people development and empowerment. Lifelong learning is defined as ongoing, voluntary, and a self-motivated pursuit of knowledge for either personal or professional development. As a result, lifelong learning not only enhances social inclusion, active citizenship, and personal development, but also self-sustainability, as well as competitiveness and employability, as well as entrepreneurship. These are critical principles that the NQF has achieved to enhance and promote.
 
Dr Dennis George is a former Saqa board member and ex-Fedusa General Secretary. He writes in his personal capacity.
 
This article first appeared in the Business Report Online