THE BIG READ: It's time for us to make education our business
There is a lot more the private sector can do to support South African education. And, why not?
Surely it is the private sector which stands to benefit the most from a robust schooling system; snagging top pupils to further propel its enterprises to economic success in the future?
So why is the private sector contributing so little towards the education of its future workforce?
According to Unesco's Education for All Global Monitoring Report 2012, the private sector's contributions to education globally are less than 0.1% of the profits of two of the world's biggest oil companies.
This is far less than its contributions to other developments, such as health, which receives 53% of US foundations' grants.
And locally? Well, reports in the 2011-2012 Global Competitiveness Report, published by the World Economic Forum, show the South African private sector is well managed and functioning reasonably successfully by global standards.
In contrast, the same report ranks South Africa 127 out of the 144 major and emerging countries it studied in terms of quality of primary education. So, our currently well-functioning private sector should take care that it does not soon find itself facing a dwindling talent pool.
Some may argue that the matric pass rate has shot up 10% over the last two years. Perhaps, but consider this: In 2006, of the 1027996 2005 Grade 1 learners, 151755 did not go to Grade 2. And, of the 878680 pupils in Grade 6 in 2005, only 496593 attended Grade 12 in 2011. What happened to these children and why did they drop out?
Numerous studies show that good, quality early education improves the chances of children staying in school and passing with good marks. But what role can the private sector play in this?
By aligning their support and Corporate Social Investment initiatives with the government priorities and the country's needs, it can make a positive difference for the matrics of our future.
A good example is Times Media, which is well placed to do this, having a number of newspapers through which to deliver material at a minimal cost to the consumer and resources to develop educational materials. But those in other industries should not be put off; there are all kinds of possibilities, particularly in partnerships.
Patrice Motsepe, for example, beyond his recent pledge to give half of his funds to the improvement of the marginalised South Africans, has been committed to supporting education through various partnerships.
The Octea Diamond Company recently partnered with the Sunday Times ReadRight supplement, commissioning it to develop and export additional educational materials for the community surrounding one of its mines in Sierra Leone.
The Octea Group contracted Sunday Times ReadRight to develop six community-specific supplements aimed at children aged 6 to 12 plus supporting materials such as posters, and provide training for teachers and parents on how to get the most out of the supplements.
Education has been working to improve the state of education for more than 10 years by providing access to relevant, free, curriculum-based content in the form of supplements such as Sunday Times ReadRight, Grade 10 Essentials, Matric Q&A, Nal'ibali and StoryBooks, particularly in poorer areas.
By leveraging its powerful newspaper brands, distribution networks and partnerships, Times Media Education's publications have become a valuable resource in classrooms across all education phases.
Sunday Times ReadRight being contracted for international work is certainly a validation of this.
Evidently, the private sector holds a mine of skills and talent to be utilised and even provide value beyond South African borders. The key, however, lies in identifying areas of expertise and opportunity.
- Eykelhof is Sunday Times ReadRight Editor