South Africa: Preparing students to compete in the job market

Photo_shape_portraitShape is the ninth teacher to participate in our Teacher Tuesday campaign. She works in a secondary school in Pretoria. Her 21 years as a teacher have given her many insights into the challenges and rewards of the job. As well as teaching the curriculum, she is passionate about giving her students the best chance possible of earning a good living, leading a full life and believing in themselves.

“I became a teacher because of my love and passion of children,” Shape says. “In South Africa you have to have a passion to be a teacher. Here it is not an easy job. In South Africa in most cases teachers are not seen as a people who can be rich, because the salary is not good. You never have money as a teacher! So we need to see it as a calling.”

Shape won an award for being the best teacher in her province in 2012, because of her dedication. She often works overtime to help her students succeed, and to ensure no-one falls behind. “I give extra lessons after others go home. I remain with year 12 to teach them again, to make sure that those who did not understand, later do understand everything. Some of them are still struggling, especially in terms of writing and pronunciation. My extra lessons help them catch up.”

Shape is especially determined to make sure her students are as ready as possible for the world they will meet when they leave school. In South Africa, more than in most countries, that means being able to compete for jobs: unemployment among those aged 15 to 24 is currently 49%, according to the latest figures.

“After grade 12, we need to prepare them to go to universities or colleges,” Shape says, “so I need to ensure they’re ready to face the outside world. Last year 127 applied for further studies, only 19 or so failed. Forty-five went to university; one was regarded as the best learner in the province.  He got 100% in his studies and 100% in his accounting. Forty-nine went to college.”

As we showed in the 2012 Education for All Global Monitoring Report, Youth and skills: Putting education to work, schools must recognize that a fundamental purpose of education is to prepare young people for work. Especially at secondary education level, courses must provide skills that relate to gaps in the labour market.


One way to help young people learn practical problem-solving skills and practise crucial workplace skills is to link schooling with work-based programmes through internships and apprenticeships.

“We invite companies that are the same as the career the learners have chosen, to come to our school and talk to them,” Shape said. “They come to school and after we identify the children who can go to them and do some work to be familiar with the outside world. They go to work for a day as managers or whatever. When they come back they are able to tell us of the challenges, then the companies come again to give them more knowledge.”

The evidence in the EFA GMR 2012 showed that skills training can help young people break free of their disadvantages and poverty for good.

“We teach them business skills, we have business projects” Shape told us. “They learn how to write a business plan. We buy some products/stock and they sell them to other learners and teachers and take money. They need to learn how much money to take from people and how much to then save. People from banks come to assist them to open bank accounts so that they can save money.”

Finding and keeping work require a broad range of skills that can be transferred and adapted to different work needs and environments, such as problem-solving skills, communication skills, creativity, leadership, entrepreneurial skills and confidence. Such skills are nurtured to some extent outside the school environment. They can, however, be further developed through education and training.

After more than two decades as a teacher, and with a past record of having an 100% pass rate in the classroom, Shape knows that it is important to foster the self-confidence that is needed in the world of work: “The first week of grade 12 I have a motivational talk with them: this is your final year, this is what you must do, this is what you must expect, this is what you must know. Some of you will get jobs, some of you will go to university but if you don’t, it’s not the end of the world. It’s not about where you’re from. Ask yourself what is it you want to be, how am I going to change my family? You are the one who must reach out and change things.”

“Assure the learners they are important and they can make it. Then they start to feel very well. I want them to do better and I say ‘I know you can, I know you can.’ They start to believe in themselves.”

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3 Responses to South Africa: Preparing students to compete in the job market

  1. feedthechild says:

    How can i get the email for Shape. I am a teacher in Uganda and my work can be found at . She is such a wonderful teacher that i should talk with her.


  2. This is amazing! Shape’ work shows her concern for her students. It has been a great enterprise in her teaching career, but the best is that her students have taken advantage of her advice. On the other hand, it is true, being a teacher, we have to have a passion for facing local and international academic matters; teaching should be seen as a calling, not only in South Africa, but everywhere. Excellent work!


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