If you’re at varsity, or planning to get yourself there soon, there’s one under-reported part of the ANC manifesto that was launched this weekend in Mpumalanga which you might want to read quite carefully.
Under the many laudable targets in its education section – including the already existing plans to build two new universities and more FET colleges and increase student numbers – is a pledge that all graduates will complete some form of community service. The manifesto is explicit in that it states this will be both compulsory and universal. Under a section titled ‘Education and Training’ it says the party will:
Improve and expand education and training by making Grade R compulsory, eradicating adult illiteracy, and further improving the quality of basic education up to the senior grade. The FET college sector will be expanded, with greater support for the needs of students, and compulsory community service for all graduates will be introduced.
There’s little extra detail in the manifesto as to how this will be implemented, and no extra information is available yet. The idea of compulsory community service was first suggested a few years ago, in fact, but it appears to have been added as an election pledge without much recent consultation.
Professor Ruksana Osman, Dean of the Faculty of Humanities at the University of Witwatersrand, has written on the subject of community service and says that successful institutes of higher education already have strong track records in community engagement and outreach projects. Many courses, including those in medical, engineering and educational areas, already require undergraduates to spend time on community projects or working in the community.
“Generally speaking,” Osman says, “The idea of giving back is a very good thing because it builds civic-mindedness and community identity. It could become onerous, however, if it is mandated in a bureaucratic way that is forced upon students and institutions inappropriately and difficult to administer.”
Osman’s colleague at Wits’ School of Education, Dr Lee Rusznyak, gave a practical example of how community service could create problems for staff and students. Rusznyak says that her concern is that there’s already a large proportion of new teaching graduates who drop out after the first year of practice, and forcing community service in the form of another year of volunteering would make matters worse.
“Studies at the University of Johannesburg have already shown that there’s a high attrition rate for new teachers,” Rusnyak says, “Because they don’t get the right amount of mentoring that they need to develop their long term careers. They tend to get into the classrooms that no-one else wants with the students that no-one else wants, and left there.”
In addition says Rusnyak, teachers already fulfill up to a year of training in schools for which many bursary students receive no help with transport or living costs. Putting extra pressure on their finances can drive them out of the profession – many schools already encourage trainee teachers to abandon their studies and take lower paid but immediate jobs as unqualified classroom assistants.
The full manifesto with explanatory notes can be downloaded from the ANC’s website here.