Tag: education

The Narrative of an Unemployed Graduate in South Africa

By Yolanda Sankobe, Social Connectedness Fellow 2019

One month ago, South Africa celebrated Youth Day, an event that commemorates the 1976 Soweto Youth uprising for better education. However, South Africa is still plagued by a phenomenon of unemployment that disproportionately affects its youth. 

Unemployment is a global phenomenon that plagues both developed and developing countries, with the youth population accounting for a large percentage of the world’s unemployment rate. South Africa has proven to be one of the countries worst affected by unemployment, even in contrast to other countries with high unemployment rates such as Nigeria, Brazil and Greece. Soaring to 27.6%, unemployment was declared a “national crisis” by the President of South Africa in May 2019. Youth constitute 55.2% of the 6.2 million South Africans who are actively seeking jobs. Despite a growing graduate labour force, this situation shows no sign of abating and efforts to stem the tide remain ineffective.     

April 1994 heralded the birth of the new South Africa as communities basked in and celebrated the promise of a new beginning and a better life for all. A better life for all under a democratic order meant economic transformation and growth for everyone. In that same year, South Africa reclaimed its rightful place in the global economy, enthusiastic yet heavy laden with the task of poverty alleviation, inequality reduction, and ensuring investment growth.

The first economic policy adopted by the government in 1994 was the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP), which was unsuccessful due to its overly ambitious approach to tackling poverty and inequality with little regard to fiscal constraints. The next two policies, Growth Employment and Redistribution (GEAR) in 1996 and Accelerated and Shared Growth Initiative of South Africa (ASGISA) in 2006, also failed to have the anticipated impact, resulting instead in fluctuating unemployment rates. Having observed the structural change in the labour force and demand for high-skilled workers [1], the Government’s solution to unemployment was to invest in education. In a heartbeat, 2010 saw the introduction of the New Growth Path (NGP). More than 20% of the National Budget was injected into education, resulting in The Republic becoming one of the highest spending governments on education in the world, despite having the lowest graduate labour force due to high dropout rates [2]. 

The year is 2015 and South Africa celebrates her 21st birthday. Over two decades into democracy, it is the world’s most unequal country, with more than half of the nation living below the already low poverty line. The apartheid legacy is still reflected in the education system. A legal entity NSFAS (Nation Student Financial Aid Scheme), which was established with the intent to grant the economically disenfranchised students access to higher education, has successfully reached far and wide. However, its focus has been on reaching more students rather than fully funding them. This has resulted in high dropout rates because of inadequate funds and the high cost of studies. In October 2015,, ‘born frees’ (born after 1994) from all walks of life united for #feesmustfall, a student-led protest, and took to the streets to fight for free education.

“United we stand, divided we fall.”

Being an unemployed graduate can be very lonely and an unavoidable trigger to one’s mental health. For the average South African, it is a return home to the poverty, people and  places you have long outgrown. It has the power to propel negative thoughts and emotions: fear that you might not make it, regret that you wasted time and money, and anger that your family is still not progressing economically. After having been to university -a place where the dream of economic freedom seems tangible- unemployment feels like a personal attack on one’s identity and sense of belonging. In the midst of that detachment lies a genuine longing for connectedness, for community and sometimes, relatability. 

South Africa are now 25 years into democracy and the growth of the graduate labour force is a sign that the youth are proactive, but unemployment policies are still not doing enough to fill in the gaps. This calls for the country to delve deeper and address the issue of unemployment at both preventative and curative levels [3] as opposed to just injecting money into education. At the preventative level, there needs to be a stronger collaboration between The Department of Basic Education, Universities/Tertiary institutions and employers to solve the problem of discrepancy between required skills and skills acquired by graduates [4]. The NYDA’s (National Youth Development Agency) Youth Advisory Centres and Graduate Development Programme, where young people receive career guidance and graduates have their skilled enhanced, are a great start and should have wider reach. The International Growth Advisory Panel recommended a youth employment subsidy for South Africa in 2011. Implementing this as a curative strategy to decrease the graduate unemployment rate could work to boost the economy [5]. 

In the meantime, volunteering is known to foster soft skills and develop work ethic. There are some incredible organizations such as City Year and Harambee that give one the opportunity to grow professionally and personally through mentorship and tutoring. 

The South African youth have always been the heartbeat of the country. They led the fight and conquered an oppressive apartheid regime – what is unemployment therefore, to stand in their way? A luta continua!  

“Together we stand.” 

[1] Lorainne Ferrereira and Riaan Rossouw, “South Africa’s Economic Policies On Unemployment: A Historical Analysis of Two Decades of Transition”, Journal of Economic and Financial Sciences (October 2016): 807-832. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/317143804_South_Africa’s_economic_policies_ on_unemployment_A_historical_analysis_of_two_decades_of_transition

[2] Martine Visser, Michael Cosser, Migonone Brier and Moeketsi, “Student retention & graduate destination: higher education and labour market access and success”, (Cape Town: HSRC Press,2010): 39-144. https://www.hsrcpress.ac.za/product.php?productid=2272&cat=1&page=4

[3] Martin Godfrey, “Youth Unemployment Policy in Developing and Transition Countries- Prevention as well as Cure”, Social Protection Discussion Paper Series,320, no.1 (2003). https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/f228/e8e46f008518560baf1862b1d628bb253979.pdf

[4] ]Precious Mncayi, “An Analysis of the Perceptions of Graduate Unemployment Among Graduates from A South African University”, Internal Journal of Social Sciences and Humanity Studies 8, no.1 (2016). http://www.sobiad.org/ejournals/journal_ijss/arhieves/IJSS2016_1/Paper49_Mncayi.pdf

[5] Lorriaine Greyling, “Graduate unemployment in South Africa: Perspectives from the banking sector”, SA Journal of Human Resource Management (March 2015). https://www.researchgate.net/publication/329070821_Graduate_unemployment_in_South_Africas banking_Sector

The Mid-Day Meal Scheme: The Unintended Consequences

By Lavanya Virmani, Social Connectedness Fellow 2019

Photo credit: REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

The successes of India’s Mid-Day Meal Scheme (formally known as the National Programme of Nutritional Support to Primary Education) have been documented since it was initiated in 1995. With the aims to improve the nutritional status of children, and enhance retention and attendance rates in schools, the Scheme provides prepared lunches on working days to every child enrolled in Government and Government aided primary and upper primary schools. The Scheme proposes a path to better health and enhanced social connectedness for those from lower socio-economic backgrounds by ensuring that children attend school regularly, eat nutritious meals and connect with their fellow peers. However, while the Scheme has been effective in improving attendance rates, scholastic performance and retention rates overall [1], the unintended consequences have had deleterious effects for the intended beneficiaries.

These inadvertent consequences are visible both at the individual level and the broader societal level. To begin with, the lack of quality control of food served has negatively impacted the health of children. For instance, reports have indicated the presence of uric acid on the food grains used for the meal. [2] Given the poor quality of food prepared, it is not surprising that many children have reported feeling unwell after consuming these mid-day meals. [3] Further, during statutory holidays and vacation periods, when there is no provision to ensure food intake, the nutritional status of children who substitute their meals at home with the mid-day meals can be adversely affected. In addition to the harmful influence on the health of many children, it has also resulted in the disruption of the delivery of curriculum. This is visible in that teachers tend to manage serving meals, which reduces their teaching time and leads to distraction from school activities. [4]

At the broader societal level, the Mid-Day Meal Scheme has been shown to reinforce already existing inequalities in India. These in turn, create and perpetuate experiences of social isolation. A striking finding in the state of Rajasthan was that children from lower castes were restricted from using school utensils and had to drink water in their cupped hands, while other children enjoyed using school utensils. [5]

  The untoward effects appear to hinder the achievement of the goals of the Scheme. Undeniably then, the wellbeing of children is also disturbed. Although the Government has taken measures to resolve some key issues, drawbacks of the program still exist. Efforts being undertaken by the Government include a provision of central assistance for management, monitoring and evaluation at 2% of the cost of the food grains, transport subsidy, and cooking assistance, and a provision to ensure that mid-day meals are served during summer vacation periods in drought – affected areas. However, to address the gaps in the program, the Government should proactively seek to limit the influence of unfavourable outcomes on health, and the perpetuation of socio-economic inequalities. For this, the Government could strive to provide food supplements during statutory holidays and vacation periods not just restricted to drought- affected areas. Additionally, officials could regularly visit schools, and encourage teachers to initiate classroom activities and class participation by all students. These actions could help instill a sense of community belonging and curb experiences of social isolation, especially in communities plagued with stark inequalities. 

School lunch programs are not unique to India; countries like Finland and Sweden have been successfully providing free meals during school days to enhance children’s wellbeing. While the Mid-Day Meal Scheme in India also aims to improve the overall health of the children, there is a lot of work to be done to overcome its limitations. I urge you to learn more about India’s program by visiting their website and highlighting possible shortcomings or oversights and proposing solutions to these challenges to various political actors  through this portal. With corrective policy, problems in the program can be resolved, social isolation based on inequalities can be diminished, and the full potential of the Scheme can be reached. 

[1] Sarma, Kv Rameshwar, D Hanumantha Rao, K Mallikharjuna Rao, Ch Galreddy, Sharad Kumar, Vishnu Vardhan Rao, and N Pralhad Rao. 1995. “Impact of Midday Meal Program on Educational and Nutritional Status of School-Going Children in Andhra Pradesh, India.” Asia Pacific Journal of Public Health.8 (1): 48–52. https://doi.org/10.1177/101053959500800109.

[2] Deodhar, Satish Y., Sweta Mahandiratta, K.V Ramani, Dileep Mavalankar, Sandip Ghosh, and Vincent Braganza.2010. “An Evaluation of Mid Day Meal Scheme.” Journal of Indian School of Political Economy. 22(1-4).

[3] Swain, Chandra Sekhar and Susmita Das.2017. “A critical Analysis of Mid-Day Meal (MDM) In India.” Imperial Journal of Interdisciplinary Research (IJIR). 3(3): 1644- 1651.

[4] Deodhar, Satish Y., Sweta Mahandiratta, K.V Ramani, Dileep Mavalankar, Sandip Ghosh, and Vincent Braganza.2010. “An Evaluation of Mid Day Meal Scheme.” Journal of Indian School of Political Economy. 22(1-4).

[5] Drèze, Jean, and Aparajita Goyal. “Future of Mid-Day Meals.” Economic and Political Weekly 38, no. 44 (2003): 4673-683.