Reports that South Africa is in a deep education crisis should not surprise anyone. It took decades to get to a place where the country is no longer competitively relevant on the world stage.
Years of neglect in terms of education, infrastructure, health and public services now claim its toll, and those who can afford it the least, suffer the most.
Since 2007, the Global Competitiveness Index has shown a steady decline in the quality of the South African education system. The most noticeable decline has been in the primary education and secondary education sectors.
Looking at secondary education, how can a person who has an average of 35% in Grade 12 be considered workplace ready or ready for any tertiary education phase? The stubborn Stalinist approach to create illusions of success by lowering standards, must be called out as one of the greatest causes of this country’s demise.
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I engage with many teachers, parents and school learners. It is obvious that they are frustrated with the lackadaisical attitude of some teachers and principals in the school system.
The fact is that the majority of South African learners have no choice as to where they want to receive their school education. For many pupils, school is like a lottery from hell.
They do not know the quality of teachers that they are going to have in any given school year. The dignity of both learners and teachers are at stake.
For years, South Africa’s politicians have allowed education standards to deteriorate so that there could be an argument to show that monopolistic capitalists are the ones who cause the high levels of poverty and unemployment that has become the dictum of our economy.
There are views that the middle class has access to better quality education and that lower classes are kept out of the system. Yet, a communist country such as China understood that quality education forms the base of economic vigour.
A more important issue is that the effect of state capture on education has not yet been unpacked. The billions that have been stolen by a few new elitists have contributed to an educational system that has a severe lack of funding to fulfil even the most basic education mandates.
Attitudes of leaders regarding the dire state of education must change. There is a deep mistrust in the state’s capability to act as custodian in chief of our education system – especially in view of all the confessions coming out of the Zondo Commission.
Is the state really in a position to make a meaningful difference within the education landscape?
It is time that the government acknowledges that private education providers play a key role in building a national skills base. The majority of private providers in the education sector are focused in making a difference by providing affordable education solutions to the broadest of spectrum in the economy.
Unless the state keeps on involving private providers and unless the government sees private providers as partners and not as exploiters, knowledge decay will remain a lead contributor to unemployment and poverty.
• Peter van Nieuwenhuizen is chief financial officer of Growth Institute, a private college offering a range of commercial, tourism and hotel management programmes