Apprenticeships are Real Education

Apprenticeships are Real Education Accessible to All

Formal education, or rather the complete lack of it, will become the current South African government’s greatest legacy. It will be nothing to be proud of and is a tragedy of the greatest proportions. I am a firm proponent that apprenticeships are real education and that  vocational training is a realistic part of the solution for millions of unemployed youth in Africa.

Unfortunately, as I ponder this article, it occurs to me that it would be dangerously easy to move into a diatribe against the educational crisis in South Africa and place newspapers filled with the odorous mixture of doggy-doo and responsibility at the relevant doors. But I will tread cautiously.

A few weeks ago, I was approached by two young, businessmen looking for partners in a bold venture. They were looking for access to the business world and guidance in how to approach this foreign creature.

My immediate reaction was astonishment at the bravery of these two chaps and, after spending some time with them, this was quickly followed by two further reactions. Firstly, the unlimited vision that these enthusiastic entrepreneurs had, was quite breath-taking and perhaps a lesson lies is this fact alone. After years in business, some of my bolder visions have been jaded by many voices telling me to “be realistic” – but this is food for another article entirely. Suffice it to say that their business plan is bold beyond the wildest I have ever encountered. And secondly, I was saddened by the absolute naiveté with which they approached business.

It reminded me of my initial encounters with business as a specialised profession, as opposed to my formal training as an attorney. There is no doubt that the business degree, achieved after my first three years at university, was just as much preparation as the following three years would be for the postgraduate degree in law. I would venture that my personal education took place only after university and once I had entered the “real” world to serve out two years Articles of Clerkship, which was a prerequisite to fully qualifying and being admitted to practise as a lawyer. The intention of these Articles of Clerkship is to provide on-the-job, vocational training in an internship of sorts and they demonstrate that apprenticeships are real education.

And now, back to the two optimistic guys from earlier. Their curriculum vitae indicated no tertiary education, but I do not believe this to be a limitation. In any event, readers familiar with South Africa’s secondary and tertiary educational system will be aware that pass rates in learning institutions are announced to be equalled or improved upon yearly by beaming idiots, to some degree because of the relentless lowering of standards. That lowering of standards renders formal education tragically over-rated locally until approximately a Masters tertiary level, or at the very least, a post-graduate Honours level – astonishing! Once-proud and internationally recognised educational institutions can no longer offer any prestige.

The significance of this lies in the opportunity to encourage alternative approaches to skilling up potential employees or entrepreneurs.

How to Get Into the Business World?

In many “developed” nations, alternate paths of education such as apprenticeship have been the norm for decades and, at around the tenth school year (grade 10 or standard 8), pupils elect to follow either the more academic route or the vocational training approach. The benefits and drawbacks of each have also been the cause of debate for decades, but the simple fact of extremely low unemployment rates in countries where vocational training is an option, relative to those in South Africa, speak volumes as to the benefits of both. In my interactions with “products” of both paths, it often seems that the most important issue at play in broad terms is the preferred method of learning for each individual’s strengths. By this I mean that certain individuals excel in academic environments, while others thrive on more practical methodology. The beauty of the alternate educational pathways seems to lie in the opportunity, for those who are not academically inclined or who do not come from an academically strong or conducive background, to further their education and skills.

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