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Is the Computer a Curse

I write this post being an avid believer that computers must work for us, not the other way round but also realise that there are other things besides computers which should be on one’s agenda when learning special skills. I always ask my partner “who will grow the beans one day?”. Where do I start?

Well for starters I live in Cape Town, South Africa. It is warm, sunny and carries very little chance of natural disaster except for the Milnerton fault. I think in the last decade we were hit by two tornadoes and every year up on the north eastern coast locals get drenched by torrential rain during the dissipation of Indian ocean cyclones over Madagascar and the KZN region. So all in all we live in a beautiful country right? Yes we do, but our education system sucks which means youngsters finding the job of their dreams is dashed before they even go out into the wide blue yonder. Week on week I get CVs from hopeful candidates wishing to join the company I work for which is computer hardware distribution – many of them are fresh out of school or looking for their first job experience. All of these CVs carry a list of computer courses the candidate has done but alas, most of these are meaningless. All of them have studied Excel but none of them really knows what Excel is used for.  Some use Excel to capture data, most use Excel as a template to document words and expressions. Some use Word to document letters and phrases, most use Word to capture data. None have studied or used Access, let alone Powerpoint.  Very few have written a page in HTML and non have ever posted a page to the web. So where does that leave our school-leaver?

With maths literacy as a subject, no science subjects and a smattering of computer courses on anyone’s CV rings warning bells in any employer’s ear.  Herein lies the problem, too much emphasis on computers and too little on proper life skills – accounting, building houses, solution-finding, team-work (everyone tells you they are a team player on their CV, I’m waiting for someone to say that they are NOT team players – then I’ll sit up and listen), electrical work, motor car engines, courses in paramedics, social welfare, genuine and interesting hobbies (not reading, TV and cooking – it’s already proven that a Big Mac is cheaper to buy than to fry). I had one candidate ask for his CV back when I asked him what subjects he enjoyed most at school – not because he wanted to leave but because he wanted to see what subjects he did at school.

It’s embarrassing to have ten people pitch up for a job interview where NONE knew what the name of the company was that they were going to work for, neither the core business. BUT each and everyone had done some sort of computer literacy course. Nobody could drive and nobody had soldered before. The worst was that each and every one of them had children to feed and they were hungry.  Somewhere someone is or was not doing their job properly – don’t put down the previous apartheid government as the reason, look at the now and not the THEN.

Right now schools should be separating those that are academic and those that aren’t. Most academics aren’t interested in carpentry as a profession and those that aren’t all want to become lawyers. I am not an academic, I know my limitations but I know a car engine backwards. Lawyers don’t make good mechanics. Electricians do make good mechanics and plumbers and anything where using your hands will complete the journey. There are doctors and software engineers that have become lawyers but very few mechanics becoming doctors. Everyone has a God given ability, a talent which should be utilised at it’s fullest – the money comes naturally. Anyone interested in the sciences loves reading – if you love computers you should love reading. Everyone loves going on the internet, but use it as a tool because after all that is what it is there for.

Schools need to separate the academics from those that are more practically inclined – gear them up to a career so when they do leave school we won’t sit with a nation of unemployables. Computer literacy should not be on the CV because it should be a pre-requisite for all school-leavers, like reading and watching TV. Speaking ten of the eleven official languages is great if you want to become an interpreter not a plumber or carpenter. Focus on what you do best.

Two of my colleagues are great with their hands and like to fix PCs and do simple electronic repair. Both of them are very good with cars and engines. The question I ask myself is where would they make more money? Did they come to us because they were looking for a job or a career. Therein lies the secret – I need a job. This not the same as a career. Because I am passionate about motor cars I decided to fix PCs. Just too much is lost in this process. We have a shortage of diesel mechanics.  We have a shortage of accountants. We have a shortage of carpenters. We have a shortage of programmers. We have shortage of electricians. We have a shortage of radio and telecommunication engineers.  And we have no jobs available. Does this make sense?

Our schooling sucks and we should be looking at bringing out of retirement all those that do have skillsets we need nowadays to train up the schoolers for making wise and informed career choices.

I know two electronic engineers, both BSC, one is in the theatre and the other an estate agent.

I know of too many people following a career where there is ample money. A very good carpenter will earn way more money than a mediocre PC repairman.  A very good PC repairman will earn way more money than a mediocre lawyer. (that may not be true 😳 ). Bill Gates is wealthy because he has a passion and was driven to succeed. All wealthy people have this in them – one does not need to run after money, if you’re good at what you do and market yourself correctly the money will come naturally.  Remember Dire Straits’s “Chicks are for Free and Money is For Nothing”. Easier said than done – Dire Straits’s Mark Knopfler is a genius in his own right.

The solution again would be to focus on vocational guidance starting with schoolers as young as possible – decisions cannot be made only by parents, in most cases parents don’t have a clue in any event, that’s why so many doctor’s kids become doctors, lawyers are sons and daughters of lawyers – get it? Why so many of us hate our jobs. Give one child the privilege of building up an electronic kit and see it work – it will change their mind forever. I’m not a gadget freak but I love electronics. Anyone with a passion for electronics is a solution provider.  Don’t fool yourself about programming either – all programming courses tell you that maths is not a pre-requisite. I bet you that Bill Gates is a maths guru. But those that naturally bend towards programming are logically minded and maths would be a easy one to follow, methinks. I bet you that all really good programmers are very good at maths. This doesn’t mean that all pilots make good programmers though but I wouldn’t be surprised if they did. The one follows the other.

I really feel sorry for the school leavers of today, many of them do not have the finances available neither the amenities to find that special skill which would have made them unique. You see this in our country where mainly the white, coloured and Indian pupils get the points and therefore get the top jobs. The black pupil doesn’t have these amenities yet many of them could be sought after diesel mechanics, carpenters and electricians. Government should step up their interest in the welfare of these kids and here I mean by doing the necessary tests before the child makes an uninformed choice in school subjects and once these tests have been completed ensure they are ready for the job market.

With opportunity comes job growth.

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Dear Scribe

Such a pity to learn and read about these trivialities obstructing the path to launch and develop a good schooling-system your side.
The apartheid past obviously has left deep traces in SA education, and of course your country is dealing with so many different social and cultural backgrounds.
Seems that BEE provides in an instant cover-up,denying the underlying problem and not working for the long-term solution needed to upgrade the quality of SA schooling-system.
I’m also thinking factor ”lack of financial resources” by the majority of black students living in the poorer townships and desiring a good school-education. Illiteracy is another concern and yes…sadly enough a disease that still exists, also in my country.
Let’s hope that in future there will also be more emphasis on practical experience, math and focus on Africa itself, and then I’m thinking history, geography, different music and dance which your country so richly owns. Emphasis should be put on SA as a new democracy in a globalizing world,so that the new generation will be prepared. Government should work on accessibility of libraries, this can make a difference between arrearage and development. Libraries play such an indispensable role. But I’m only a laic in all of this, and talking theory is one thing, realizing it is the other one.:)
Maybe there is no perfect schooling-system,and the most balanced and ideal one still to be discovered, or maybe to be found sowewhere in the middle of the Draconion style and the more provocative and stimulating one.:) And by all means factor respect added….
Current Dutch teaching is very competence-focused, leaving the classical way of teaching behind. Change is good sometimes, but I doubt this one, only time will tell.
Nevertheless I wish plenty of reinforcement for all workers in the field of education today to fullfill their task… a tough job sometimes, people tend to forget.

May real wisdom and common sense grow abundantly…everywhere.

Yours sincerely


Howdy Moonbeam, sorry about such a long belated reply, I was stuck in another universe. I like your reply, very intelligent and articulate. The factors at play in our South African schooling system is more around a "get Johnnie to pass, no matter what" whereas your schooling system although pushing limits also obviously allows the students creativity to be explored. Children's creativity should never be ignored, it is after all what makes successful later on in life. The Taiwanese schooling system brings out the best maths and science academics according to a documentary I have just seen, likewise Korean but yet the pupils in Korea hate it. I put this down to the lack of a creativity angle again, possibly Draconian "you will get 80% no matter what" as opposed to our "Johnny must pass, no matter what." In South Africa schoolchildren are taught by their parents to disrespect and sadly this disresepect is taught on by poor examples in government. We can go on and on but the fact remains, the Dutch schooling system is light years ahead of ours. Not that long ago, so was the Zimbabwean schooling with their higher than average graduates in the sciences as opposed to S.A. This is post-Apartheid years, not pre which is another very debateable subject. Sadly BEE raises some very pertinent questions, mostly as to why companies must now be left with the task of educating these school-leavers in basic skills. This is the responsibility of their masters at school - it's no hidden fact that brilliant task-masters such as Bill Gates and Steve Jobs surrounded themselves with brilliant people. In South Africa we have a similar division within the government - the Revenue Services, run by bright, serious minded individuals. And that's about it. I recently attended a seminar covering the future of Cape Town and one gaping hole was our totally in-effectual education system. Sadly, these gaping holes are being picked up by overseas investors - and of course intellectuals such as yourself living in countries which long ago realise the importance of investing 'intelligently' in their people.

We do live in interesting times,
Kind regards and best wishes


Hi there!

I am writing this from a small country called The Netherlands that does not major in sunshine on the weather-report, but hits the news regularly with derailed trains due to some simple leaves falling in autumn….not to mention gridlocks due to one single accident, fog, glazed frost, or other nasty consequences of winter weather conditons…
I do agree with you that applicants for a job should clearly state their motivation in WHY they are applying fort that specific job. A first impression is also important, but not something an employer can trust and build on at first 🙂 this always sketches a biased view. And of course the self-knowledge and preparation, this is an imposed task that should be offered by other institutes in maybe interview training.
Such a pity to learn about the sore point in your schooling-system and nevertheless the ignorance of your current government .
In Holland we have a diverse and plural society, an interactive and student-centred teaching style, meaning that all scholars get the freedom they need to develop their own opinions and creativity in applying the acquired knowledge. It is a sort of problem-based learning system which forces students to anayze and solve problems independently through emphasis ons self-study and self-discipine…the last one a very important virtue.
Interaction in class is a keyword, expressing one’s own view on the knowledge and developing a personal critical opinion.

Have you ever heard of CITO? Cito is a Dutch insitution which is recognized internationally as an expert in developing and administering examinations and tests. Their range of services and products for the education and professional practice is broad and focuses on modern forms of testing and tracking. It provides training and consultancy work and examines the quality of education. All these activities are carried out for educational institutions, governments and industry at home and abroad. Each year they supply this test for Standard 5? pupils,and it is a key for them at the end of primary school. The Cito Test measures the knowledge of individual pupils in the Dutch language, arithmetic / mathematics, study skills and environmental sector. Also this tests if a pupil is more practical or academically inclined to study. And not to forget factor character, circumstances and teamplayer or not. IQ and EQ etc.

Here is a link to the swamp of our Dutch education, and yes it is a good one, but sometimes I think they push it too far... leaving blancs in the general knowledge.:)

Btw: this is just for your perusal, and certainly not meant for comparison in value of school- systems.
Really hope that your government-members will wake up and start sticking their necks out to pull up a good scholar-system out of SA soil.

How can they overlook that?

Kindest regards
Another democrat..(but not so sure of that anymore lately…)

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