Nurture the minority who show potential and desire
If elitism translates into an enhanced skills base, bring it on
IF ONE ACCEPTS that the calibre of a country is determined by the calibre of its people, then the nationwide furore over the recent spate of disappointing matriculation results should be cause for deep concern.
We hardly need reminding that the Accelerated and Shared Growth Initiative of South Africa (Asgisa) aims to grow the economy by 6%/year and to halve poverty and unemployment by 2014.
Asgisa can only succeed if the requisite skills are forthcoming – hence the Joint Initiative on Priority Skills Acquisition (Jipsa), which strives to identify priority skills shortfalls.
Against such a background, I venture to suggest, perhaps controversially, that our matric results have not been as disastrous as they appear at first glance.
I maintain that perspective is lost in the expectation that every youngster sitting for his/her school-leaving examination should excel. Nowhere in the world does it work that way.
China, where “only” some 300m people qualify to operate in the First World, is illustrative. The example might be a tad extreme, but it does serve to demonstrate that less than 30% of the population reaches the top competency quartile.
Given the limits of resources, human ability and achievement, our focus of con- cern should assume a micro rather than macro dimension. Reality, harsh though it might be, urges us to: • Accept that the majority do not have the resources, interest or perhaps intellect to emerge from school with distinctions in mathematics and science; and Nurture the minority who demonstrate the requisite potential and desire to excel in mathematics and science. The challenge is to identify the potential and interest, secure in the knowledge that the number of matriculants currently shining in the sciences represent no more than a small fraction of those capable of doing so if given the desired support.
It’s a context that projects to the forefront the considerable lengths to which we at the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (Saica) have gone to expand the layer of the mathematics cream at the top of the glass of milk.
Saica’s Thuthuka Education Upliftment Project initiative identifies, trains, educates, cajoles and encourages the numerate potential of some of the nation’s black secondary and tertiary students. Mathematics, English, science and accounting are the subjects of focus. Life orientation has also become a critical subject to address.
Early on, we learned that full-time tertiary study was critical to our students’ success. This is why bursaries making it possible for our budding stars to study on a full-time basis have become a cornerstone of the programme.
Every problem might be capable of an answer; yet not every answer is the solution to all problems. If it were, then Thuthuka’s work would not be constrained by funds sufficient only to deliver maximum intel- lectual succour to thousands, when tens of thousands are clamouring for their talent to be brought to fruition.
While the Departments of Labour and Science and Technology, as well as the accounting profession, have channelled many millions into Thuthuka, the aggregate wherewithal falls woefully short of the ideal number.
It’s a financial bottleneck that fosters neglect in those areas of the country untouched by the programme and that forces those who select candidates to turn away the many who come within a whisker of academic excellence.
The lesson is clear: Asgisa is heavily dependent on Jipsa, which, in turn, is becoming increasingly reliant on the private sector and Government partnerships and initiatives like Thuthuka.
Skills shortages are manifestly hampering our economic growth rate. And while the shortages are evident in professions such as science, accountancy and engineering, the generic paucity dare not be ignored, stemming as it does from insufficient exposure – from an early age – to mathematics, science, accounting and English.
The solutions lie not only in allocating much heightened public and private sector funding to education in general, but in applying the additional money to benefit youngsters with the potential and interest to succeed in the targeted academic disciplines.
I accept that there are many who would reject the proposal as discriminatory. My answer highlights square pegs in round holes. Numeracy is at a premium; we desperately need more accountants, more teachers and more engineers. Force those who are not so inclined into these professions and you are left with an unhappy generation and wasted financial resources.
If assisting those with scarce intellectual resources to reach their goal is elitist, then I for one am unashamedly in favour of elitism.
Chantyl Mulder is the senior executive for transformation at the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (Saica).