Opinionista Chabana Chabana 3 July 2019

Community service for graduates should be made compulsory

We should ask a fundamental question as a country: Is it not time to introduce mandatory community service for all beneficiaries of free education provided by the state?

The State is producing a generation of graduates who have gone through the entire school system without their parents paying a cent for their education. The state is paying social grants to 17.4 million beneficiaries, which translates to a social assistance allocation of more than R163-billion from the state purse.

The Department of Basic Education was allocated more than R246.8-billion for the education of primary and secondary school kids. The National Student Financial Aid Scheme, NSFAS, was also allocated R30-billion to fund more than 690,000 students from 26 universities and 50 TVET colleges.

All these allocations are meant to ease the burden on working-class parents who would otherwise not be able to afford our education system. The sole purpose of this huge budget is to give black children the same opportunities and quality education as their more privileged counterparts who had a head start due to the injustices of our apartheid past.

The above financial interventions are a good measure to tackle poverty to benefit groups such as our vulnerable youth, the unemployed as well as the sick. However, the social security mechanism comes at great cost to taxpayers.

We should ask a fundamental question as a country: Is it not time to introduce mandatory community service for all beneficiaries of free education provided by the state?

Reflection on this question will help us to wage war against the dependency syndrome that seems to permeate our society. We should not promote the tendency that where the state is concerned, everything must be delivered to us free and that there will be no obligation to the state and its vulnerable people.

Our university graduates must understand that delivery of free education is an investment by the state, hence the need for a compulsory social responsibility programme as an appreciation to the taxpayers for carrying their financial burden throughout their university years.

Mandatory community service will be beneficial as it will inculcate ubuntu values and introduce a new perspective to the beneficiaries of free education, as is the case in other countries where it is the norm.

The graduates will then also gain intimate experience of the challenges our people are facing. The way that medical students are expected to do community service is what society should expect of all other graduates who benefited from national funds; however, the caveat should be that the service will be unpaid.

The first port of call in introducing compulsory community service should be an introduction of a module on mandating social responsibility in our 26 universities and 50 TVET colleges.

The module should serve as a platform for students to understand the importance and the values that a responsible citizen should espouse. The module may also be delivered by practitioners active in civil society movements or individuals who are at the coalface of social responsibility research. At the centre of the module’s content should be a civic duty.

The government should also introduce a national framework for compulsory community service whose implementation and the vehicle should be a national community service agency to be established by the government.

The agency shall, among other things, be mandated to outline the number of compulsory community service hours for graduates, identify and develop a database of organisations where the community service will be performed, issue confirmation letters to graduates who have completed the community service, as well as evaluate and monitor the programme.

The compulsory community service should be a prerequisite for graduation. Every graduate shall receive a letter confirming the completion of compulsory community service once the student produces evidence that there was no payment for such community service, the number of stipulated hours completed and presentation of the work done as well as lessons learnt.

Each student shall choose the nature of compulsory community service she or he will do; however, the agency will make sure that the community service is not meant to resemble punishment or anything that prisoners are subjected to for their rehabilitation programme. It should be fun and educational. DM

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