Education exists to help individuals realise their full potential and for them to transform the lives of people in their families, communities and in the greater society, says the University of Pretoria’s (UP) Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Professor Tawana Kupe.
“Education does not transform an individual’s life only,” he said, “but also the lives of those who are connected to that person.”
Prof Kupe was invited to speak in a webinar that was organised to commemorate the June 16, 1976, uprising. He was asked to speak about education in the 21st century, with a particular focus on tertiary education and its importance in society and in the lives of individuals from all walks of life.
As part of his presentation, Prof Kupe shone a spotlight on how studying further allowed people to set themselves apart in a labour market that is becoming increasingly competitive, especially against the backdrop of youth unemployment levels that are rising steadily.
“The higher the level of education you attain, especially if you attain a university degree, the better your chances of employability and being able to realise your full potential.
“As much as youth unemployment is very high, graduate unemployment is very low,” Prof Kupe highlighted.
Prof Kupe acknowledged that there are graduates who are unemployed, but that the rate of university graduates who are unemployed or are not studying further is less than 10% based on research conducted by some universities.
The UP Way
Prof Kupe stressed the importance of the role of tertiary education institutions in preparing individuals to make a positive, social impact. He suggested that the focus of these institutions should no longer be on only imparting information to its students, but rather, to equip graduates with the ability to solve problems that are prevalent in society and for them to think critically in situations that they will find themselves in.
“At UP, our approach is that we must stimulate the ability of students to think critically; to think outside the box; and [for them] to become independent of their learning environment once they graduate.
“One of the things we teach at UP is that students must become socially sensitive to the needs of others and their environment. People without emotional intelligence will do harmful things with their knowledge,” he said.
Collaboration, creative thinking, data literacy, technological literacy and human literacy were highlighted by Prof Kupe as being the key tenets of the University’ pedagogy. As the level of youth unemployment continues to rise in the country, Prof Kupe also emphasised how UP has been intentional about playing a role in nurturing young entrepreneurs. He cited the UP Business Incubator and TuksNovation as some of the initiatives that the institution has put in place to support young entrepreneurs.
In his closing remarks, Prof Kupe encouraged the attendees to view learning as a perpetual process and not one that ends as soon as someone graduates.
“Universities should be able to enable people to relearn, and learn again,” he explained, “You cannot depend on knowledge that you acquired in the past for the rest of your life, especially in periods where there are dramatic changes.”
“You always return to learn and relearn because the world is always changing and there are disruptive forces all of the time and new jobs are always coming up. Universities must prepare people for large disruptive changes that may come from any angle,” he concluded.
Issues affecting the youth
The webinar was organised by Nokuthula Shange, who hails from Umlazi, in KwaZulu-Natal. She is of the view that life for young people in South Africa can be extremely challenging. Her vision was to use the platform to impart meaningful life lessons to young people that would stand them in good stead over the course of their lives.
She invited Dr Fundile Nyati, who is an entrepreneur and medical doctor, to speak about depression, anxiety and emotional intelligence; Thina Maqubela, who is a lecturer and the founder of Maqubs Academy of Excellence, to speak about financial literacy; and Asive Dlanjwa, who is the chairperson of the South African Students Congress (SASCO) in the Mangaung region, who addressed youth leadership.
Maqubela encouraged the attendees to resist the temptation of comparing themselves to people who might have access to more money than they do. She also encouraged young people to find mentors who could guide them in making good financial decisions and to also educate themselves on concepts that pertain to personal financial management.
The programme director, Oliver Chikodzore, asked Dlanjwa to explain what youth leadership meant to him. Dlanjwa responded: “Youth leadership refers to young people that represent the interests of other young people. The reality of the matter is that the lived realities and the conditions under which young people live under can only be best understood by other young people.”
Dr Nyati gave an in-depth presentation on anxiety and depression and at what stage these are typically regarded as disorders. He also offered practical tips that could be used to manage these disorders, but also encouraged attendees to seek professional help if they struggled to function effectively at work and at school.