Voices

Is it time to ditch the national certificate (vocational)?

2018-10-02 20:51

For years, the state has crowed over the success of matric (national senior certificate) pass rates, but the pass rates for the national certificate (vocational) Level 4 programme, which is equivalent to a Grade 12 national certificate, does not receive the same level of attention.

Although the state does publish the results of these vocational programmes, that data is published about 18 months after the fact. Data for 2016 was only released in March 2018. Data for 2015 was not released, so researchers who track the pass rate for the vocational programme would have to extrapolate data so that a complete picture could emerge. In addition, data for these pass rates prior 2012 is sparse, so it is difficult to see how many people who started with the vocational Level 2 programmes prior to 2012 eventually ended up with a Level 4 certificate.

In addition, the state manipulates data so that pass rates on the vocational programme appear better than what they really are. To determine the pass rates, the state dismisses how many people enrolled for a programme compared with how many completed the programme. Instead, the state bases the vocational pass rate on the number of persons who registered for exams and who subsequently passed the exams.

Even with the state’s manipulation of the pass rates, not more than 37% of students complete a vocational programme. Clearly, the State must explain why the pass rates of these programmes – especially on Level 4 – do not compare with the pass rates of Grade 12s.

Throughput rates refer to the number of students who enrolled for a programme and who progressed to a higher-level programme in subsequent years.

• In 2014, 95 112 students started the vocational Level 2. Of those, 21 562 pass their exams and could go to the next level in 2015. 77% of students who enrolled for Level 2 either dropped out or had to repeat their year.

• In 2015, there were about 15 000 students in the Level 3 programme who passed their exams – thus only 15.77% of those who started in 2014 were able to move to the next level.

• In 2016 only 9 100 students passed their exams. In other words, 9.57% of those who started in 2014 ended up with a Level 4 qualification that is supposed to be a Grade 12 equivalent.

State funding for the vocational programmes is different to the same type of funding for public universities. Funding levels for public universities are based on throughput, but for the vocational and other programmes at Technical and Vocational Education and Training colleges, funding is based on head count. This funding approach creates the classic dilemma of quantity above quality. Such an approach is populist thinking. Skills cannot be improved by simply throwing money at it.

Note that the above levels of funding apply only the subsidies that the State pays towards students at Technical and Vocational Education and Training colleges. It does not include the cost of salaries and building maintenance at said colleges.

Assuming that it costs the government R10 000 a student a year in a Technical and Vocational Education and Training college, the state invested R 5.1 billion between 2014 and 2016 on which they have lost more than R 3.1 billion of their investment. That is a wastage that no emerging market economy can afford.

From the state’s own reports one can extrapolate that the student subsidy bill for the period 2012 to 2018 is expected to be R 11.3 billion of which R 7 billion would be spent on students who have not passed their academic year.

There are some who argue that the number of students in these colleges are insignificant compare to those who are in other education streams. The argument continues to say that the state’s expenditure on Technical and Vocational Education and Training students are insignificant compared to the rest of the education agenda. Wastage remains wastage, no matter how one looks at it. The fact that the State insists to fund these colleges based on headcount and not based on throughput, must be questioned. It simply reinforces a culture stating that underachievement is acceptable.

Statistics SA estimates that there were 24 638 848 South Africans between 15 and 39 at the end of July 2017. Of these only 336 695 (1.36%) will benefit from vocational programmes between 2017 and 2018. Yet it is estimated that the state pays almost R 3.3 billion on programmes with a failure rate touching 80%.

These programmes are meant to assist those who do not have formal schooling or who have not progressed beyond Grade 9. The programmes are designed to provide life skills and other skills that the youth may need to gain access to the workplace. However, the low throughput rate of the programmes do not produce enough people who could start higher level vocational programmes or higher-level Further Education and Training programmes that could lead to national diplomas or even degrees. Nor do the vocational programmes produce enough candidates that could access the workplace with relative ease.

It is very tempting to argue that these programmes do not have merit. As simple statistic will show that 1 138 152 enrolled for vocational programmes between 2012 and 2018) and that only 326 427 (28.68%) would pass their exams. Keeping a programme in which only a small fraction of the youth benefit, does not make sense.

Holding Technical and Vocational Education and Training colleges to account and funding them based on throughput and not on based headcount must be uppermost in the skills shortage agenda.

Peter van Nieuwenhuizen is chief financial officer of Growth Institute, a private college offering a range of commercial, tourism and hotel management programmes

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October 21 2018