Technical Education Standards Decreasing Alarmingly and Signal Disaster in the Making

Cape Times (South Africa), November 18, 2014 | Go to article overview

Technical Education Standards Decreasing Alarmingly and Signal Disaster in the Making


During my years of employment in AECI Ltd, where I was chief engineer, and later managing director of the engineering division, the training of apprentices, artisans and taking care of the engineering students were portfolios of mine.

What concerns me is that the standards of technical education are decreasing alarmingly in this country. Our school education, and especially that of science, has for decades been below the recognised standards in Europe.

During my first year at UCT as an engineering student in 1958, I had a discussion concerning the degree course with engineering staff and I remarked that I found it strange that the engineering degree in South Africa, which was then based on the British university engineering degree, was a four-year course while in the UK it is a three-year course. It was explained to me that the subjects studied in the first year for the South African degree were subjects that the South African student had to master to improve his or her school-leaving standard to the equivalent that it is in the UK.

During my first year as a student, the subjects I was required to study were: pure maths, applied maths, physics and chemistry. In the 1950s, we were already one year behind the UK education standard and since then it has declined even further. This was clearly stated by Adam Habib in his book South Africa's Suspended Revolution, where he states on page 66: "Driven by a desire to cut costs, the Education Department began to retrench teachers in the second half of the 1990s, and trying to avoid an adversarial process, it offered a voluntary severance package to teachers. Not surprisingly, the best teachers in the system took up the offer, leaving the least qualified teachers in the system."

Add to this that the Education Department reduced the standard of teaching and technical colleges, teacher training colleges and nursing colleges were closed down.

Companies were instructed to shut down apprentice training facilities and the trade-testing facility at Olifantsfontein where apprentices had to do their trade test to become artisans was also closed down. …

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