Over the last few years we’ve put significant leg work into building new systems of early childhood development ensuring that every child has the chance to develop their love for reading and learning. We have also identified ways in which ordinary people can connect with each other in building a network of support for the development of children in their communities. Both these strategies are aimed at setting up children for success later in life.
How can we create a society in which every person has the support and the opportunities to fulfil their potential? This is the question that drives all our work at the DG Murray Trust.
But there’s been a harder nut to crack: figuring out how to build real and imminent possibility for young people, who have already been failed by a poor quality education system and who are trying to build independent lives in a tough economy. This is particularly so for the 3.3 million young people aged 15-24 years who aren’t working or aren’t enrolled in an education institution such as a school, university or FET college.Hall, K. Children’s access to education in the South African Child Gauge 2015
Many successful developing countries have capitalised on the ‘dividend’ created by a large youth bubble that is associated with demographic transitions. Kasprowicz and Rhyne argue that there is a window of opportunity during these transitions, which can be seized but which requires smart, effective and rapid social and policy change that supports the multiple potential positive effects that a young population creates. They believe that ‘less developed countries’ – including South Africa – have a window between 2005-2035 to really capitalise on their youth bulge for strong economic and social prosperity.Kasprowicz, P and Rhyne, B. Looking through the Demographic Window: Implications for Financial Inclusion, Centre for Financial Inclusion, January 2013 available here Young people aged 15-35 years old currently make up 36% of the South African population.Statistics South Africa, Mid-Year Population Estimates 2014, p.9 accessible here Notwithstanding the limitations created by an ineffective education system, this youthful cohort should be a major boon for the economy and could build a positive social trajectory for the country. However, the status quo means that young people face a hostile and difficult society in which there is little focussed, innovative, or effective action to support them. Young people are also the parents of our young children, so building opportunity for them is crucial to breaking the intergenerational transmission of poverty.
We are missing out on their potential, and the potential they have to actively and positively shape South Africa. Put simply, we cannot and should not write off a generation of young people. We have the power to support and connect with them, to grow their prospects, to ensure they can access real precedent setting opportunities, and ultimately change the trajectory of the whole country. There are many ways in which we can do this. Here follows four powerful ways in which we can do it as ordinary citizens in our personal and professional capacity.
Change our perceptions
Earlier this year, Statistics South Africa released its ‘social profile of youth’ report.Statistics South Africa, Mid-Year Population Estimates 2014, p.9 accessible here It paints a bleak picture: 59% of young people live in households below the poverty line; over 50% of young people are unemployed; and few successfully navigate through the education system to ultimately attain tertiary degrees. As a result, we have a prevailing perception of young people as a ticking time bomb – an idle, unruly, and terrifying group of people who threaten the stability of the country. And often, we lay the blame at their feet – not our own.
But seeing young people like this is a choice.
There are many studies that show young people are optimistic about the future; they often try multiple strategies using lots of perseverance to get education and work. In the stories of young people highlighted in this Create Change, we see exactly this at work. Lots of resilience in the face of significant obstacles and ongoing attempts to create new opportunities and possibilities for themselves. We get to choose how we see young people: do we look only at the consequences of years of society failing them; or do we acknowledge that, for the most part, young people are trying their hardest to make good lives and contribute enthusiastically to building a better country. If we can shift our perception, then we can start to take the everyday actions that will build real possibility for these incredible young people.
Support young people to navigate their way through the education system
A big determinant of a young person’s success in life is their educational attainment. Part of the driving forces behind the #FeesMustFall protests over the last year are that young people know, and have seen, that getting a tertiary degree can pull an entire family out of poverty – and after managing to navigate through a tough and complex education system, it is a tragedy that many young people are excluded from completing tertiary education.
Previous editions of the Create Change series have highlighted the importance of early reading and supporting the development of young children. This is crucial in setting people up for success throughout their lives. But for young people in the education system already, we need to think about what strategies of support they can be provided with now. For example, how can we ensure that young people are supported to stay in school, how do we help them to catch up on the fundamentals of literacy and numeracy, and what skills and support do they need to navigate the complex system of post-school options?
There are many ways in which each one of us can make a contribution to these outcomes. Do you, for example, have a spare computer, tablet, or mobile phone lying around? Being computer literate and having access to information can dramatically change a young person’s life.
Do you have time to become a mentor (see point 4 below) – to help a young person to choose subjects, to figure out how to access TVET colleges, and/or how to transition smoothly from education into work experience? Studies show that having a mentor significantly increases a young person’s chances of being enrolled in post-secondary education, compared with young people don’t have one.Bruce, M and Bridgeland, J. The Mentoring Effect: Young People’s Perspectives on the Outcomes and Availability of Mentoring, 2014 Civic Enterprises in association with Hart Research Associates
This infographic will provide you with valuable and accurate information to start this conversation.
Create opportunities where you are for young people to gain work experience
One-third (over 3 million) of young people in South Africa are not in education, training or employment.‘NEETs’ is a term used to describe young people who are Not in Employment, Education or Training They live in families in which the income from the child support grant has just run out, most of them will not have completed matric, and many will face a plethora of challenges as they try to transition into employment or further education. Your chance of being employed increases as you age, with those between 19-25 years old far more likely to be unemployed. Young people are literally stepping out of school and into an abyss of no opportunities.
According to research commissioned by The Small Entreprise Development Agency (SEDA) in 2016, there are over 660 000 formal SMMEs in South Africa.Bureau for Economic Research. The small, medium and micro enterprise sector of South Africa, Research Note 2016 (1), Stellenbosch University. If half of them each took on a single young person for work experience – just covering transport and food costs – we could create real opportunity for one tenth of all unemployed young people each year. If NGOs, larger companies, and government departments did the same, we could easily absorb the vast majority of young people, giving them a sense of what work is, providing basic skills and foundational workplace competencies, and getting them started on their journey towards fulltime formal employment. Creating a single programme – whether through an employment tax incentive, a national youth service programme, or EPWP ‘job opportunities’ – at a scale to reach over 3 million young people is unlikely and expensive. A top-down approach simply can’t reach everyone – so we all have to each choose to act now.
Taking on a young person at your company – especially someone who has been failed by the education system – is daunting. But what is more daunting for us as a country will be a generation who are never able to transition into being self-supporting, creative and capable adults. In this edition of Create Change we look at how we can structure voluntary work to prepare young people for work, and strategies to profitably employ youth and provide recommendation on how to make this work based on the experience of organisations and companies that are doing it well. We have also put together a themes-based mentoring or coaching guideline/life skills toolkit – either for a young person who is wanting to develop these skills and awareness within themselves or for someone who is guiding a young person through such a process.
Mentor a young person
It’s easy to forget that one of the most valuable things you can contribute to other people is your time and your knowledge. When we started the Activate! networkSee www.activateleadership.co.za part of what we were trying to do was to link the poles of South Africa: to connect young people who had dropped out of school with those who were getting PhDs; to connect youth across different issue areas, different political parties, different races. One of the reasons we thought this was important is that our history has left us with deep divides that limit the transfer of knowledge and ‘suss’ required to navigate systems and access opportunity. Networks carry subtle but crucial soft skills and enable knowledge transfer that make up a huge part of a person’s ability to access opportunity.
For example, in their fascinating book ‘Growing Up in the New South Africa’, Bray et alBray, R., Gooskens, I., Moses, S., Kahn, L., Seekings, J. (2010) Growing up in the new South Africa: Childhood and Adolescence in post-Apartheid Cape Town, HSRC Press. note the different ways in which adolescents in Fish Hoek and Masiphumelele spoke about their future careers. Young people in Masi’ could identify what they wanted to become and that, in general, they had to work hard at school to get there. So did the kids in Fish Hoek. But they had a secret weapon: without fail they could think of someone in their family’s network who had that career they were pursuing, they could think of people who would be able to advise them and help them make decisions about their options, and as a result, they could identify the precise path they would need to take to ensure their success. This kind of confidence, knowledge and suss is developed in human relationships and networks – which is why mentoring can be one of the most powerful tools to change the trajectory of someone’s life.
These are just a few of the many ways in which each one of us can engage with the young people who cross our paths on a daily basis in South Africa. We hope that this edition of Create Change will encourage you to see the huge potential and possibility of young South Africans and inspire you to take action in supporting just one of them.
|⇧1||Hall, K. Children’s access to education in the South African Child Gauge 2015|
|⇧2||Kasprowicz, P and Rhyne, B. Looking through the Demographic Window: Implications for Financial Inclusion, Centre for Financial Inclusion, January 2013 available here|
|⇧3, ⇧4||Statistics South Africa, Mid-Year Population Estimates 2014, p.9 accessible here|
|⇧5||Bruce, M and Bridgeland, J. The Mentoring Effect: Young People’s Perspectives on the Outcomes and Availability of Mentoring, 2014 Civic Enterprises in association with Hart Research Associates|
|⇧6||‘NEETs’ is a term used to describe young people who are Not in Employment, Education or Training|
|⇧7||Bureau for Economic Research. The small, medium and micro enterprise sector of South Africa, Research Note 2016 (1), Stellenbosch University.|
|⇧9||Bray, R., Gooskens, I., Moses, S., Kahn, L., Seekings, J. (2010) Growing up in the new South Africa: Childhood and Adolescence in post-Apartheid Cape Town, HSRC Press.|