KAGISHO MASAE | Corporates must step into the education breach or we’re doomed

In SA, five pupils at a public school share one textbook. This has to change and government can’t do it alone

02 November 2021 - 20:39 By Kagisho Masae
During lockdown, private schools segued seamlessly into the online space, a possible explanation for the top 200 schools in the country achieving more distinctions in maths than pupils in the other 6,600 schools combined.
UNACCEPTABLE During lockdown, private schools segued seamlessly into the online space, a possible explanation for the top 200 schools in the country achieving more distinctions in maths than pupils in the other 6,600 schools combined.
Image: Antonio Muchave

Of every 100 pupils who start school, 50 to 60 will make it to matric, 40 to 50 will pass the year and only 14 will go to university. That’s according to Amnesty International’s Broken and Unequal: The State of Education in South Africa report. It’s also not just a South African problem — global secondary school completion rates are at 53%.

Department of basic education (DBE) statistics from 2018 show that out of 23,471 public schools, 20,071 have no laboratory, 18,019 have no library, 16,897 have no internet connectivity and 239 have no electricity. I’m a firm believer that every child, regardless of their background, deserves a shot at quality education. How are you supposed to get that shot without resources?

Investec launched the Class of 2030 campaign recently, concurring with the UN that 2030 is the point of no return for humanity in terms of making sustainable, permanent changes that will help guarantee the future of our planet and its people. The UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were launched in 2015 as a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that, by 2030, all people enjoy peace and prosperity.

I’m on the task team at Investec charged with supporting initiatives around meeting SDG 4: “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.”  My experience has shown me that traditional ways of learning or providing education aren’t going to help us meet that aim. We need to relearn how to learn.

My story in education technology began in 2017 with a start-up called CynC, which merged in 2020 with Matriclive, a business started by Lesego Finger, an extremely bright, self-taught software engineer. Finger and I aimed to provide access to quality educational content for grade 10 to 12 pupils, essentially based on digitising our own study notes and using old exam papers, memos and assessment questions from the DBE. We wanted to summarise the curriculum and made no claims about being an educational institution or having any accreditation. We were just trying to help.

Sixty percent of the world’s youth population now lives on the African continent and by 2030, the year the SDGs need to be realised, 30% of the world’s economically active population will live in Africa. That makes access to equal education a non-negotiable for the continent.

Matriclive was charging a subscription fee of under R100 a month and by February last year we had around 8,000 users. Then lockdown hit and we made the decision to make access free so children could keep learning. We ended last year with more than 631,000 pupils, won awards and now have closer ties with the department. It’s not a brag; it’s an example of how simplifying and opening up access to educational content draws in pupils, offering an unconventional way to solve our education crisis.

Sixty percent of the world’s youth population now lives on the African continent and by 2030, the year the SDGs need to be realised, 30% of the world’s economically active population will live in Africa. That makes access to equal education a non-negotiable for the continent. We cannot afford to have nearly a third of the world’s economically active population undereducated.

It’s already apparent that government won’t manage to solve that problem on its own, so it’s time for corporate SA to step up. Covid-19 lockdowns have punished plenty of businesses and cost many jobs, but there are a lot of JSE-listed companies whose cautious approach to operating during the pandemic means they’re sitting on decent cash reserves. They have qualified people, auditors and efficient processes, and it’s time they started extending their resources. For starters, they could help fund devices and data for pupils.

If finances are tight, deploy resources — the workforces at these listed companies are largely still at home. How about opening up office space to SMEs and entrepreneurs who can help develop solutions to our country’s myriad problems? If SA gets into trouble, all these companies get into trouble too. Where’s the commitment to developing their own workforces of the future? If we can’t find a way to help educate South Africans, we won’t have a viable, qualified workforce to sustain our economy.

We live in a country where five pupils at a public school share one textbook — if they have access to one at all — while during lockdown, private schools segued seamlessly into the online teaching space. That probably explains why children in the top 200 schools in SA achieve more distinctions in mathematics than children in the other 6,600 schools combined.

Traditional ways of teaching and learning need to change — or our future won’t.  

Follow @Classof2030 on Instagram to find out more about our action to save humanity.

Kagisho Masae is digital brand manager for Investec Wealth & Investment Marketing Project.

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