For every young person preparing to write his or her matric exams in the next few months, there is another who didn’t get the chance.
Even for those who are lucky enough to pass, their future prospects for work are far from encouraging.
Statistics South Africa’s most recent quarterly labour force survey shows that of the about 10.3 million South Africans aged between 15 and 24 years only about 1.2 million have a job.
Of the remaining 9.1 million about 3.3 million are not in any form of employment, education or training and another 3.1 million would work if they could, but have simply given up looking.
This means that almost two-thirds of young South Africans have no job and few prospects. One can only describe this as a profound youth crisis.
The extent of the crisis was highlighted in Statistics SA’s recent report on poverty trends in South Africa. The poverty figures themselves are shocking; more than half of South Africans – more than 30.4 million people – were living in poverty in 2015, but the most disturbing finding was that poverty was highest among children aged 17 years and younger.
Childhood poverty on this scale is a catastrophe but what the report laid bare is the way in which poverty, childhood deprivation, and education are inextricably linked.
South Africa’s high rates of poverty are primarily the result of a combination of low economic growth, persistently high unemployment, and poor basic education for children from under-resourced households.
In other words, those with little or no education are mostly likely to remain victims in the struggle against poverty.
What made the report so distressing is that it is becoming increasingly clear that the state is unable to address the systemic problems that would allow young people to break the cycle of poverty – primarily through access to quality or even adequate education.
Growing up in poverty is one of the greatest threats to healthy childhood development, and healthy childhood development is crucial to long-term academic achievement.
Research has repeatedly shown that investment in early childhood development is reaped several fold as children progress through the formal school system and into the world of work.
Unfortunately for more than 13 million South African children already, living in poverty is a daily reality and the opportunities to break out of this cycle are becoming increasingly rare – and with it any opportunity for our economy to reach the levels of growth required to make a meaningful reduction in poverty and inequality.
Stakeholders at every level agree that the achievable rate of economic growth is directly linked to the skills of the population, yet we seem unable to translate these intentions into quantifiable outcomes.
Post 1994, more children have access to formal education than ever before, but educational outcomes remain heavily skewed according to both race and income with poor black students bearing the brunt of educational inequality.
This is the result of a gradual deterioration in the quality of that education which has compounded existing systemic inequalities established in the pre-democratic era. It is this compound effect that we are seeing in the most recent poverty trend report.
The government will spend about R243 billion, or about 16% of total consolidated spending, on basic education during the 2016-2017 fiscal year.
This allocation is projected to rise an average of 7.4% a year over the next three fiscal years. Despite this substantial investment in education we continue to perform well below our peers.
While on the surface the official pass rate of matric students suggests that educational outcomes are improving, this pass rate masks the fact that between 40% to 50% of pupils drop out before even reaching matric.
In the World Economic Forum’s 2016-2017 Global Competitiveness Report, South Africa’s primary education system was rated 126th out of 138 countries and our higher education and training system ranked a dismal 134th.
There is no question that these poor educational standards have been a constraint on growth and a contributor to our high rates of joblessness as the problems experienced at school and tertiary level are passed through to the workplace.
For a country that allocates a higher proportion of its budget towards education than the United States, United Kingdom and Germany it is difficult to argue that South African schools are under-resourced.
But it is a lack of leadership and management capacity, not funding, that is holding the country back. It is clear that simply adding more funds to the pool is not the solution.
Education is the single most important investment in social capital needed to lay the foundations for all South Africans to participate in the economy and we believe that business, civil society and the citizens of South Africa have a vital role to play in this regard.
The National Development Plan calls for increased collaboration among stakeholders to improve educational outcomes. It is our crucial duty to contribute to this vision not only for the betterment of ordinary South Africans, but as part of our own long-term sustainability.
It is for this reason that we are committed to working together with Partners for Possibility to share our expertise with partner schools in order to develop leadership potential and find workable solutions to everyday educational challenges.
Our view is that critical change in education can only be unlocked when education leaders are able to identify and implement strategic priorities and effectively manage budget and resource allocations.
This is something that we at IQbusiness do in a myriad of environments every single day.
We are also embarking on an ambitious in-house training programme, that is playing a significant role in developing business-ready talent. The results are pivotal in our own success and growth and highlight the unlock to potential through proper training.
With this in mind, IQbusiness has committed to expanding our existing support for Partners for Possibility to support the leadership development of school principals. We will challenge other businesses to follow suit.
If business is genuinely committed to the future of South Africa we should be investing in early education as well as building leadership capacity in our school enterprises.
• Adam Craker is chief executive at IQbusiness