Programmatic approach: Responsive Education, Dignified Work and Meaningful Livelihoods

It is critical that, as part of the HSRC’s strategic focus on transformative and inclusive people-centred development, it focuses on research and public dialogue on the link between responsive education, innovative and dignified work, and broader definitions of livelihoods in bringing about inclusive and transformative development in an unequal world.

Education has always been considered central to development and economic growth. However, education at all levels in South Africa requires agile responsiveness – in quality, accessibility and content, including contextually relevant (or decolonised) education. Research is needed that investigates the tension between education that incrementally improves, adapts and responds to technological change, and technology’s concomitant adjustments to the nature of work in South Africa and the rest of the continent.

South Africa has long struggled with the issue of quality education. The era of technological disruption and innovation poses new challenges that education will be expected to address. Included in this will be the ability of the educational sector at primary, secondary and tertiary levels to rapidly respond to the need for new forms of knowledge and knowing. At the tertiary level, issues of access will remain significant as will be the differentiation between university-level higher education offerings and those needed from the Tertiary Vocational Education and Training (TVET) sector. TVET will especially be required to change and adapt at great pace to embrace technological innovations. In all of these changes, issues of access, overcoming poverty and ensuring inclusivity are paramount. Furthermore, a careful interrogation of the strategic inputs that are needed to ensure quality education (such as the first 1 000 days of schooling, mother tongue language education, and the soft skills that are critical for technological innovation) is central to this value chain. Much evidence already exists and now needs to be collated, examined and disseminated to change current discourses and stimulate new practices.

The HSRC is especially concerned with the fair inclusion of those previously excluded in a country and continent still emerging from an unequal and unjust past. According to ILO definitions and statistics ‘non-standard work’ is now more common than ‘standard work’, a trend that indicates that most people in the world do not secure an income though formal employment. This is particularly true in the Global South and is likely to increase with the 4IR. The terms ‘work’ and ‘livelihoods’ are thus more inclusive than ‘employment’ and therefore need to be the focus of this research.

The HSRC aims to document a range of livelihood generation strategies and to refocus the activities people spend most of their time performing as a social justice-related issue, rather than as an instrumental economic activity primarily designed to promote growth. The research will be as much concerned with skills needed for conventional economies as it will be with overlooked sectors of the economy including the ‘lavender economy’ (the helping and caring professions), the ‘orange economy’ (creative industries), the ‘blue economy’ (oceans), the ‘green economy’ (energy), the ‘invisible economy’ (unpaid and exploitative work), the ‘third sector’ (community, not-for-profit work and social enterprises), and the ‘unknown economy’ (x-tech).