As the province's 2018 matriculants await their final examination results, some of the thought leaders in the field of education are debating their futures and the new offerings available from the private sector.
(L-R) Odette Fracesconi and Craig Duff
Will these learners automatically enter the rising ranks of unemployed youth which stands at a disturbing 38 percent or will they go on to follow their dreams when they sign up for a degree or a diploma at a tertiary institution?
More importantly, will these dreams be dashed when they graduate? Currently, an estimated 50 to 60 percent of students drop out of tertiary education and, of those that do graduate, 34 percent fail to find jobs.
Craig Duff and Odette Francesconi, founders of the NewBridge which will open its first campus in Musgrave, Durban, in January, think it’s time to take a whole new look at tertiary education in South Africa.
In 1991, they founded and then built Varsity College into a significant success story with campuses countrywide. Now they’ve added their passion for both education and youth development to over 50 years’ experience and hope to provide much-needed answers.
“We need to take a more practical approach to education in general. With the pace of the world and technological transformation in a rapidly evolving digital era, employers are looking for more than just a piece of paper. They are looking for practical skills,” explains Duff.
This time round, they’re creating a next generation educational platform designed to bridge two important gaps - the one between school and post-school education and the one between post-school education and employment.
As Francesconi explains, the traditional educational system is geared towards a very definite outcome in the form of a degree or a diploma. Students are taught that theory and then evaluated according to how much they retain. They arrive for a job interview after graduating with a qualification but none of the practical skills, aptitudes and attitudes for which employers are looking.
Another big problem is that an estimated 85 percent of what they are learning is expected to be redundant within the next five years – and most of the jobs that will exist in 2030 haven’t even been thought of today, Duff adds.
Then there’s the problem that learners, who are the products of a highly managed education system, are not equipped for tertiary education in the first place.
“They step out of an environment where, for 12 years, their timetables and assessments are set, they are told what to do, when to arrive and trained for that final paper. They arrive in a post-school setting and are immediately expected to be independent learners who can manage themselves. They get sent off to university, given more freedom than they have ever experienced in a home setting where safety and security are paramount and expected to make decisions that they are not equipped to make. It comes as no surprise that dropout rates are so high,” she points out.
NewBridge’s contemporary approach to learning is completely different and set to disrupt tertiary education as we know it.
The campuses that will be rolled out over the next five years are small and community based, catering for no more than 200 to 500 students.
“Our solutions come in the form of professional development programmes that are carefully selected according to each student’s specific aptitudes and chosen field of study. These include academic orientation, work readiness, financial literacy and digital literacy. We believe that each student is unique when it comes to how they process information, so we provide multiple teaching methodologies including face-to-face learning, private tutorage, workshopping, online engagement, blended engagement lectures, tutorials, presentations and peer-to-peer collaborative engagement,” explains Duff.
He adds that this multi-faceted approach creates a firm foundation and desire for life-long learning in students, which is paramount for an evolving, flourishing career.
As a higher learning platform, NewBridge does not offer courses in its own name. Instead, it recognises the importance of correct registration with institutions that offer the best, internationally recognised, accredited certificates and then provides the relevant ongoing support required to bolster and complement these.
“NewBridge offers a new, dynamic platform which synergises with students on an individual level, affording them the opportunity to engage in a vibrant life of learning and creativity. The life skills and business acumen garnered in this world-class environment create a positive impact on their entire lives and the lives of others, ensuring a fun, well-prepared and prosperous journey,” Duff concludes.
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