Jon Foster-Pedley. Picture: Martin Rhodes
Jon Foster-Pedley. Picture: Martin Rhodes

SA is failing to meet a “phenomenal desire” for lifelong learning, says Jon Foster-Pedley, dean of Henley Business School Africa.

Rapidly changing technology, accompanied by new ways of working and thinking, require constant renewal of skills and knowledge. Foster-Pedley says 45% of South Africans already have the wrong skills for the existing economy. This “mismatch” will get worse in future. Those without the necessary abilities will simply be left behind.

It’s not just about job requirements. Many people simply want to challenge themselves and acquire new knowledge.

The trouble is, says Foster-Pedley, that many South Africans see learning – or “education” – as out of reach. “They don’t think they are capable. Because of SA’s history, people haven’t had the opportunity to see how good they are. Even now, some retain a generic unease. They think education is a privilege.”

The situation is improving slowly. “Some people are gaining a sense they can do more, that they have done well at work and are actually pretty good. They want to get back on the education bandwagon.”

Traditionally, for many South Africans, the only career-related education after school or university has been training or executive education paid for by employers. Increasingly, though, people are looking for other ways to learn.

For those with access to computers, the rise of online learning has made that easier. Now Covid-19  has lowered the barriers even more by moving programmes almost exclusively online and removing  many of the usual classroom-teaching costs like room hire, travel, catering and even accommodation. In some cases, students don’t even have to study at set times. They can do it in their own time, with the aid of pre-recorded lessons.

Foster-Pedley says: “With virtual learning, there are almost no obstacles. It has levelled the playing field. But we have to do more to encourage the concept of lifelong learning. We have to rethink our whole SA approach to education. Why offer special education to the few when we can provide it to the many?”

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