Learning to Earning: Making Education Relevant


A researcher at the University of the Free State, Ms Patience Mukwambo, wrote in a Fin24 article how higher education must do more than help graduates get jobs.  Her thoughts were not only insightful and relevant but also raised questions about the broader role that education should play in society. 

So, what is ‘relevant education’?  This is a baffling question to secondary school learners facing the future, to parents having to fork out thousands to pay for this, and to the job markets whose growth depends on skills which can enhance economic growth.

South Africa has one of the highest per capita spending on education in the world,  but how much value is our education adding to social impact? There is a deeper dimension to what should constitute relevant education.  This includes the skills and attributes that enhance the sustainability of humanity.

There is no doubt that economic imperatives are powerful shapers of curricula and epistemology.  Teaching and learning should encompass the needs of society and focus on skills like critical thinking which have been identified as key in the age of Industry 4.0 and the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR). Industry aligned curricula and the focus on the digital economy emphasize the need for critical thinking, collaboration, communication and creativity amongst others to prepare our youth for the jobs of today and tomorrow.  Yesterday’s jobs are being replaced by automation, AI and robotics at exponential rates as evidenced by UBER, Airbnb and others.

What is critically absent from the ‘Top Skills’ is the interconnection of skills with values. The application of skills without awareness of its impact on society and the ecological system has singularly been responsible for the increase in conflicts and environmental destruction. 

The TSIBA Business School has sought to insert its knowledge value at the intersection of skills with values. Hence it built into its curriculum a range of experiential and deep learning methods to take students on a self-development journey that profoundly impacts their lives.  Earl Erasmus, Head of the Leadership and Self-Development curriculum comments; “The privilege of having graduated from two of the Western Cape’s world-renowned universities awards me the honour to genuinely appreciate what TSIBA strives to accomplish – what many other institutions don’t. With its ‘Profile of Graduateness’ it shapes deep, self-aware, well-grounded, academically and community conscious, generous, competent leaders, with critical 4IR competencies. It inspires me that every day, every lecture and discourse is an attempt driven to do just that. Personally, no place has felt so professional and Academic, yet so homely and relevant”.

TSIBA also embraces mindful action and experiential learning within its entrepreneurship curriculum by placing students into groups to execute a variety of real-world business and personal projects.  As they engage in real income-generating project work and interact with local entrepreneurs to help build their businesses, they embark on a learning experience based on real-world application as well as the impact of this within the social field.  The experiential learning resonates well with Dales ACTIVE LEARNING, depicted below:

In their lived learning journeys, students at TSIBA  journal their reflections and it is evident that the journey impacts their lives in meaningful ways  One of many students reflections clearly show the approach impacts students in more ways than just theory they cover; A valuable lesson that we learnt from the sensing journey is the power of listening. After doing intense listening, we were able to gain a deeper understanding of the challenges our consultee/entrepreneur was facing and what perspective he has on things. Not only could we see things from his point of view, but we can now view the ways of the world differently.” 

From their assignment submissions, it is evident that TSIBA students’ engagement in real-world, practical learning and journeys with local entrepreneurs, assimilating information on the challenges these entrepreneurs face that they acquire profound learning encounters.  This also enables them to apply their theory to help solve some of these real-life challenges. It is really exciting to see how they manage to apply the theory within entrepreneurial contexts, challenging their ability to think critically and creatively, while working in teams.  

The action learning approach underpinned by self-development has really embedded the skills our students need for the work of tomorrow.  It is the ability to self-reflect, whilst simultaneously directing knowledge towards the solving of real-life challenges in a sustainable way that will make education relevant! 

Authors:  John Durr, Ehrlich Erasmus and Rudi Kimmie are TSIBA Business School academics. They write in their personal capacities.