Number 133 out of 142 countries in the world is where South Africa ranks in terms of the quality of its education system, according to the latest World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index. We fall even lower when looking at the quality of Maths and Science, ranked 138 just above Dominican Republic and Timor-Leste. These indicators brings to light the severity of what will be another lost generation passing through our education system.
Without literate and numerate learners moving through the school system and into tertiary, we cannot come close to meeting our employment or growth targets. The welfare state will be under enormous pressure to grow to support the needs of voters who are not qualified for anything but unskilled labour.
Without educated people, companies have no future market to sell to and no future employment pool to draw from. This is a corporate problem as much as it is a government problem. A Trialogue study shows that in 2010, 90% of the JSE top 100 companies supported education in some way, but the question remains – do companies chase a social return on this investment as closely as they chase a commercial return for shareholders? After all, each rand spent on social investment is borrowed from shareholders and the same levels of accountability should apply.
It is not the role or responsibility of the corporate sector to turn around the education system, but it is a corporate problem as much as it is a government problem. Companies have the benefit of ringfencing their contribution and their responsibility. A carefully considered CSI programme within a specific geographic area can make an enormous difference to the 2000, 3000 or 4000 young learners in that system. To them, it could be the difference between life on the streets after school, or being abosrbed into the slipstream of a tertiary education and formal employment.
While your core business may be selling branded consumer goods, or building houses – with the right approach – don’t underestimate the contribution you can make to an area that is non-core, while building brand profile and reputation at the same time.