For many years the ICT skills shortage has confounded the industry, media, tech academies and government. With no clear progress in resolving it, IT departments continue having to over-outsource or pay exorbitant rates to obtain critical skills.
Skills represent such an enormous problem that it’s difficult to get one’s head around it or imagine how so many interests could possibly work in concert to overcome it.
However, one quick win to be had is if universities revised their curricula and stopped producing computer science graduates who have little knowledge and experience of real-world issues and requirements of ICT.
Meaningful or pointless?
How meaningful is the computer science qualification taught at your university?
To a certain degree, old technologies like Cobol are being taught at some universities without proper regard for their real-world everyday use, simply because there is a resident expert on-board.
Instead, more relevant technologies and skills, such as mobile and cloud computing, should receive more exposure and the needs of South Africa and the continent should be considered.
Besides the content of a degree, there is also its effectiveness. Universities should do honest soul-searching about the success rate of their graduates in finding employment, asking themselves how many find jobs, what positions are open to them and what extra professional qualifications they need to attain to be employed.
Without providing answers now, it is enough to note that these and other pragmatic questions aimed at bridging the gap between academia and business ought to be what drives curricula. Not tradition and certainly not the ready availability of in-house expertise.
Towards business-academia integration
A recent visit to India revealed an impressive degree of integration between tech companies and universities.
Universities must network with business
To begin with, we witnessed a truly striking turnout of Master students and even professors at a high-level (business-focused) global conference. What’s more, their seats weren’t sponsored – their universities had sent them.
In South Africa, this sort of thing doesn’t happen. It may be a cost issue, but the opportunity to network with businesses is priceless. Academics must pick the best opportunities and seize their chance to align their objectives with real-world issues.
Universities must feed business with innovation
Many national software companies in India are so hungry for innovation that they will locate themselves in close proximity to universities, research and development facilities and associated recruitment firms. Faculty members, in turn, often have automatic access to R&D labs, and R&D staff often lecture at universities.
The integration is so tight that students can graduate on one end of the street and walk across to the other, fully skilled to be productive in a position in industry or R&D.
In South Africa, this degree of partnership is unheard of. Some might counter that South Africa’s IT industry is mostly reseller-focused, but there is much innovation on home soil that can be fostered with stronger links to more receptive universities.
The price of insularity
Universities are ultimately responsible for delivering great education that serves the needs of the nation – and they’re rewarded every year with a quality intake; a self-reinforcing value proposition.
A parochial mindset when undertaking curriculum design and an overly strict focus on cost containment will place severe restrictions on their ability to deliver value, ultimately working to their detriment.
Given universities’ responsibility to help redress social imbalances and the pent-up demand for education (leading to an over-supply of applicants), real-world skills are even more vital in a university’s armoury.
The problem touches students too. On realising their disadvantage, many seek internships to gain experience. The temptation for universities might be to gratefully rely on such pressure valves, but the interns should be debriefed and the lessons fed into universities’ curriculum design.
Business suffers too. The scarcity of sought-after skills drives up the cost of those skills. This poses a threat also to the economy – the number of university students starting businesses in South Africa is comparatively low, given the salaries they command in the corporate environment thanks to this unhealthy situation.
With many more start-ups per graduating class by comparison, India has been able to build an industry rich in intellectual property, consequently attracting a great amount of off-shore business process outsourcing.
Better collaboration with business would allow universities to place the right amount of focus on the right areas needed in the market, thus benefiting themselves, students, the industry and the economy.
Tips To Becoming Fluent
The ultimate goal when learning a new language is to use it fluently, as accuracy can be improved and developed over time.
Learning a foreign language can be challenging and difficult, and requires great commitment and motivation. It is, however, one of the most enriching and rewarding skills that can be acquired over a lifetime. There are proven benefits to learning a second language, for example, improved intelligence, memory and concentration, as well as lowered risks of dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Fluency is the ability to express oneself easily and coherently in real time. Accuracy is the ability to be correct and precise, and it means that one is communicating without any grammatical, vocabulary, tonal or any other errors. The ultimate goal when learning a new language is to use it fluently, as accuracy can be improved and developed over time.
How you can improve your language fluency
There are a number of ways to improve fluency. Firstly, immerse yourself with native speakers as much as possible. Listen to them in their natural contexts and if you are unable to do this, watch movies and television shows in the language you are learning, or listen to audio books and music in that language. Another option for immersing yourself in a foreign language is to stream radio from a country that speaks it, or tune into a television station from that country on DSTV.
Find avenues to practice wherever and whenever you can.Having a friend to practice with can help you to stay motivated and focused. Practice speaking every day and try to learn new words and phrases every day. Encourage native speakers to correct you wherever possible.
Be prepared to invest a lot of time and dedication into learning a foreign language. Students are likely to stay motivated over the long-run if they have a good reason to learn the language.
The problem that many beginners encounter is that they become too focused on reaching a perfect end-stage that they get discouraged and never get past the early stages.
Become comfortable with making mistakes and try not to be perfect. Think in the language as much as possible, instead of thinking in your native language and then translating. Try to improve and remember specific grammar rules so as to avoid incomprehensibility or vagueness when communicating with native speakers.
Choose an comprehensive language course
When choosing a language course, remember to look for a course that focuses on all the language skills like reading, writing, listening, grammar and speaking. Read books, magazines, and other material in the target language whenever possible. Write something in the language every day, for example, a short sentence summing up your day, a diary entry, or an article.
Memorising lists of vocabulary can be quite challenging and very boring. A great way to build vocabulary is to learn vocabulary that is relevant to your life and things around you. You could start off by writing your “to do” lists and shopping lists in the language that you are studying. Practice by giving commands to your dog, labeling household items, and playing memory games.
Social media platforms are another excellent way of interacting with native speakers, as users are able to interact with each other over the internet.
Web blogs are one of the many forms of social media, and provide a platform in which people can express issues related to their lives and different viewpoints that they may have. Blogs address a wide range of topics and are used in many different ways, which makes this platform an excellent means to practice your language of choice.
Practice, practice, practice
Try not to leave long gaps between courses or take a semester off, as you will forget your language at an alarming rate. If you are planning to go on holiday, take some exercises with you so that you can do these throughout your trip.Consider booking your next trip to the country where the language you are learning is spoken.
If you are serious about learning the language and getting direct pleasure from what you have learnt, you need to go where that language is spoken. Above all, you need to enjoy learning the foreign language and never stop having fun while learning.
“Free” Online Courses Versus Interactive Classroom Courses
The Internet is currently abuzz with advertisements for “free” online language courses and online education.
While developments in technology have undoubtedly created opportunities for more people to access education, the question still remains as to whether it is actually possible to learn a language solely with the use of an online platform. Whilst there are numerous advantages to using online platforms, there are equally as many disadvantages.
Benefits of face-to-face language learning
Online platforms are limited in their capacity to support group discussions, as well as the engagement with language facilitators and tutors. Many platforms are also unable to cope with the thousands of students that try to join online discussions. Language learners benefit greatly from human interaction within a classroom. Mark Edmundson (2012), an English professor at the University of Virginia, argued that online education creates a “monologue and not a real dialogue” in the learning environment.
Classroom environments allow learners to express their opinions, participate in debates, and engage in face-to-face interaction with classmates and their instructor.
Related: Ongoing Learning For Leaders
Language facilitators are responsible for explaining material, answering questions and guiding learning based on students’ needs and language levels in real time. From an online perspective, this resource becomes diluted, as often there exists back and forth communication between the student and the facilitator over an extended period of time. Within a classroom environment, learners are immersed in the language and encouraged to speak. Learning takes place in a pro-active way with a balance of learner-facilitator interaction and group work. Language learners receive undivided attention from the facilitator, and the pace and content of the tuition is thus tailored to the learner accordingly.
Two of the benefits of online courses are that they offer flexibility and convenient accessibility; however, they also require a greater amount of self-discipline, reading and time-management skills. Online courses tend to make it easier to procrastinate and they create a sense of isolation. These elements are not conducive to successful language learning. Motivation levels are likely to decrease when using online platforms, as learners have no real external influences to help keep them motivated and inspired.
The quality and accreditation of online language courses is also a concern to most learners, as many online courses lack valid accreditation and certification. It is crucial to enrol in a course that provides legitimate information and that is accredited with a relevant board or organisation. A course that does not provide valid accreditation will serve no purpose or advantage to the learner.
Wits Language School was established in 1997 and forms part of the Faculty of Humanities at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa. Over the last 19 years, the school has built a reputation for providing high-quality language services and short learning programmes in a dynamic and international learning environment. Wits Language School endorses interactive teaching styles, uses up-to-date teaching methods, and employs experienced and highly qualified teachers who are mother-tongue speakers to assist all participants in their quest to learn a second language.
Related: Why You Should Keep Learning
Online learning should be considered a supplement and extension, rather than a replacement, to traditional classroom learning.
Moreover, Wits Plus, the Centre for Part-Time Studies at the University of Witwatersrand, offers selected undergraduate degrees, as well as a wide range of short certificate courses. Evening classes make all qualifications accessible to working people and busy entrepreneurs. Wits Plus also offers a range of online short courses that enable you to study wherever you are. Certificates of Competence are awarded to successful participants for both certificate and online short courses
Successful Adulting: Why Studying Isn’t So Scary
How to cope with studying as an adult.
Balancing the various priorities that fill your day is one of the greatest differences between studying as an adult and studying when you have just finished school. Students who have just finished school often only have their studies to focus on, whereas adults with full-time work commitments and/or a family to take care of have more on their plates.
While this is not to say that all new students having finished school do not have these priorities — more and more do these days — they also seem to have more support from the family unit. Adult students need to start their degrees with clear strategies to succeed.
Here are a few tips.
1. Make a time and a place that you can dedicate to your studies
This should allow you to work without interruption. Having your family understand and respect these boundaries is very important and critical to you doing well. If you have defined time to work, you can spend time freely with them once you are done.
2. Find balance between the various aspects of your life
The best way to do this is to not fill too many hours with unnecessary work. Work or studying can easily expand to fill any amount of time you allow, and so you have to manage this so that you have enough time to work, study, relax, and do all the other things that are important to you, all the while remembering that time on task is important to your successful future.
3. If you do not understand, you should ask questions
Don’t be shy! As lecturers, we appreciate questions and enquiring minds. Understanding something now may mean the difference between passing or failing in future, so ask questions sooner rather than later.
4. Form a small study group with others
There is nothing more motivating than being on the same path as others. Everyone has different skill sets and abilities, and members of your study group will help you gain a new perspective on your work.
5. Find a mentor that you can learn good habits from and whose input you value
It takes a lot of courage to find a good mentor, but this relationship will benefit you in years to come. The key is to find someone who is in a place in life that you admire, either from a personal or professional perspective.
6. Don’t fall behind with your studies and make sure you keep up to date
Take time to check that your notes are updated, in order and make sense. The best way to do this is to use some time after lessons each day to go over that day’s work to be sure you have the work well summarised and in a form that you can use for revision. Another impactful way to check your understanding of a topic is to find a friend in the class who needs help, and help them. You cannot explain the work if you don’t understand it. If you are not brave enough to do this, then draw a face on an orange or an apple and explain the work to the fruit!
Pulling it all together
Starting and completing a degree as an adult student is not as overwhelming as it may appear at first. The key is to break it down into small, manageable steps. By putting positive, constructive habits in place and surrounding yourself with a support system, you will not only obtain your degree, but enjoy the process of learning and growing.
If you’re ready to take the next step and fast forward your career, learn more about Monash South Africa’s MSA Executive education programme at www.msa.ac.za/msaexec/what-we-offer/.
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