TVET college students left in limbo

Vast numbers of students have waited for their certificates for up to nine years, leaving them jobless and with diminished prospects, yet Sita carries on dragging its feet.

A sizeable number of Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) college students, mostly from disadvantaged family backgrounds, have been waiting for their qualification certificates since 2010.

Caroline Mosoloane, 35, is one of them.

The State Information Technology Agency (Sita) delayed issuing qualification certificates to thousands of TVET students across South Africa. It then told the Portfolio Committee on Higher Education and Training that all certificates would be issued by the end of June 2016. But this has still not happened.

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Lesotho-born Mosoloane, a mother of one, has been living at her sister’s house in Thaba ’Nchu in the Free State since 2006. She finished Form E (the equivalent of matric in Lesotho) in 2005 with a second-class pass and her grades enabled her to enrol for a diploma.

In 2007, Mosoloane enrolled for an electrical engineering course at Motheo TVET College, choosing to study at the college’s Thaba ’Nchu campus because it is close to her sister’s house.

Mosoloane says she wanted to enrol for a National Accredited Technical Education Diploma (Nated), but the college told her Nated programmes had been moved to Hillside View campus in Bloemfontein, about 70km away. The Nated programmes, which run from N1 to N6, with the last programme being equivalent to a national diploma, are purely vocational.

Matric equivalent

With minimal options available to her, Mosoloane chose the newly introduced National Certificate Vocational (NCV) programme available on the campus. The Department of Higher Education and Training introduced these NCV programmes at public TVET colleges in 2007.

The priority, according to the department’s 2013 White Paper for Post-School Education and Training, was “to strengthen and expand the public TVET colleges and turn them into attractive institutions of choice for school leavers”. The programmes were for artisans as well as other occupations at a similar level in fields such as engineering and construction, tourism and hospitality, and general business and management studies.

Many students like Mosoloane, who had completed matric, enrolled for these programmes not knowing that this meant they would be on the same level as students who had passed grade 9.

Mosoloane was not eligible for a bursary or funding from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme because she is not a South African citizen. As a result, she had to pay an annual tuition fee of R5 700 for three years.

Mosoloane says the college informed her in her second year (2008) that the NCV programme for which she had enrolled was equivalent to a matric certificate. Although she already had a matric certificate, she looked forward to finishing the course in the hope that “there would be more chances for us to get jobs”.

The runaround

But Mosoloane says that during course registration in early 2009, the college wanted to phase out System and Construction, a module she had began in 2007. This did not happen, but her marks for this subject did not end up counting towards her final qualification.

In January 2010, Mosoloane went to register for a course that would supplement the subject, despite not knowing whether she had passed or failed the module. “This caused a delay [because] in March 2010, the results were pending and in June, again the results were still pending …The college did not give me reasons as to why my results were pending.”

Then in 2011, the college contacted Mosoloane, inviting her to pick up a graduation letter.

“I asked them, graduate for what without my marks? No one answered this question … They said the college has decided that we will graduate [regardless of the marks].”

Although she attended her graduation ceremony, Mosoloane still hasn’t received her qualification certificate, meaning that the years she spent studying at Motheo college have not borne any fruit.

Mosoloane now makes a living as a hairdresser in Thaba ’Nchu. “I wish I could get my results and the certificate so that I can see what’s the way forward,” she says, heartbroken.

14Feb_TVET_MC-2.jpg
23 January 2019: Motheo TVET College in Thaba ’Nchu, where many students undertook vocational training.

Lost opportunities

Precious*, 36, who lives just a kilometre outside of Thaba ’Nchu, finished matric in 2001. Her grandmother died in 2005 and she was not able to study further because of financial constraints.

Seven years later, she was able to enrol at Motheo college for a civil engineering and a building construction course, which she completed in 2010. But because she has not received her qualification certificates, Precious says the department and college have robbed her of a bright future. “Now I am an administrator because … I have nothing. No results and no certificate,” she says.

Tears well up in her eyes. “I was happy that I’d finally get employment and study further … There is no one working at home. This means I would have been the first one to graduate and work. My aunt is epileptic and she is a pensioner … My qualification would have taken me out of this life. My aunt is the one who raised me, she has two children. I wanted to look after them to have a better life,” she tells New Frame outside her grandmother’s house.

Precious received an overall achiever certificate for all her subjects. “We are the first ones to graduate, they used us as pilots for these NCV programmes. The subjects were changing every year and it will be phased out,” she explains. “Before I started writing letters, I would go to school to enquire about my certificate, and I showed them my marks but they said they will approve my certificate in Pretoria.”

Guinea pigs

For years, Precious sent dozens of emails and letters to an array of government officials, political parties, law and policymakers, and enforcers, explaining her struggle to find employment because of her unissued qualification certificate.

An excerpt from an email Precious sent to Gwebinkundla Fellix Qonde, the director general of higher education and training, on 26 March 2015 reads:

“Motheo TVET college and this education system has used us as guinea pigs for these NCV programmes, and then they spat us [out] with no certificates, leaving us to fend for ourselves in this tough competitive environment where the FET/TVET graduates are not taken seriously, and they show no remorse.”

Precious adds: “The campus manager, when she heard that I am writing letters to everybody, she said to me, ‘What is the DG going to say about me?’. She was only worried about her reputation, and this is the kind of people you leave our fates in.

“I have now reached a point where this delay is causing a lot of endless problems in my private and working life due to work opportunities missed, training and further promotions not possible and the time consumed and wasted trying to obtain my certificates.”

Sita failure

A year later, Precious appealed to the public protector for help.

On 4 April 2016, the higher education department’s chief director of national examination and assessment, Nadine Pote, responded in a letter to advocate Mojalefa Clifford Mokoena from the provincial public protector’s office in the Free State.

“It is with regret that DHET [the department] is unable to issue all NCV certificates at this time. The department relies on Sita to render the examinations IT system functional, which includes the correct and accurate processing of the data for certification purposes. Sita has acknowledged to the Portfolio Committee on Higher Education and Training that they have failed to timeously resolve the data processing challenges,” reads the letter.

“As an interim measure, it is advised that Precious utilise the verification letter already issued along with her statement of results as a verification document to confirm that she meets the requirements for certification with any potential employer or to access higher education.”

Promises

New Frame asked the principal of Motheo college, Dipiloane Phutsisi, if the college was taking any responsibility for the gross delay in issuing certificates. “No response,” she said.

“The delay in issuing out of certificates is a national problem, not only for Motheo TVET College. The department has progressed very well in addressing this matter … Most of the students from 2006 have received their certificates and can therefore apply for jobs. In cases where certificates have not been received, an academic record can be used,” Phutsisi told New Frame in an email.

Department spokesperson Lunga Ngqengelele told New Frame in an email that although the responsibility of ensuring that students receive accurate results and certificates lay with Umalusi (the Council for Quality Assurance in General and Further Education and Training), the department and Sita, the department would employ electronic and manual methods to curb the issue of outstanding certificates.

To date, 592 471 certificates have been processed since 2010, with the aim of clearing the backlog by June this year.

“The students who are eligible and have satisfied the requirements will receive the certificates within a week and students from Motheo are encouraged to contact the department, which will do everything possible, even using manual intervention processes, to combine the students’ results and issue certificates.”

In an emotional email from July 2015, Precious urged Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng to intervene and help her find justice. “This undue delay has now led me to take a course of action that will require Motheo FET College and DHET to compensate me for loss of earnings and pain suffered during this period,” she wrote.

Despite their best efforts and promises of certificates by June, the futures of Precious, Mosoloane and many other TVET college students remain in limbo.

* Not her real name

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