Cor­po­rates want to play a part

The Witness - - OPINION - Christina Wat­son • Christina Wat­son is the CEO of ed­u­ca­tional pub­lish­ing house Via Afrika.

WE are cor­rect to view the state of ed­u­ca­tion in South Africa as a mat­ter of na­tional con­cern. Hav­ing said that, we do a dis­ser­vice to the ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem by mak­ing pro­nounce­ments based on only one met­ric — the ma­tric pass rates.

Again this year, we saw much hand­wring­ing over the drop in maths pass rates, which while un­der­stand­able, is by no means the full pic­ture of what is truly hap­pen­ing in South African maths ed­u­ca­tion.

Per­haps this dis­torted view of the state of maths ed­u­ca­tion in South Africa was most clearly dis­played in last year’s widely re­ported, and quickly dis­cred­ited, World Eco­nomic Fo­rum Global In­for­ma­tion Tech­nol­ogy 2014 Re­port. The re­port ranked the qual­ity of South Africa’s maths and science ed­u­ca­tion last out of 148 coun­tries. The base rea­son that the re­port was so quickly dis­cred­ited was that it sur­veyed busi­ness lead­ers’ views on the qual­ity of South African ed­u­ca­tion, not nec­es­sar­ily how good or bad our ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem is. How­ever, this re­port is still wor­ry­ing.

It con­cerns me how mis­con­cep­tions about ed­u­ca­tion in South Africa are clearly preva­lent among the opin­ions of busi­ness lead­ers. Ac­cord­ing to in­de­pen­dent re­search group Tri­a­logue, com­pa­nies spent R8,2 bil­lion on cor­po­rate so­cial in­vest­ment (CSI) projects in 2014, with the lion’s share go­ing into ed­u­ca­tion ini­tia­tives. Ad­di­tion­ally, it found that be­tween 2008 and 2013, there was an in­crease in the coun­try’s over­all CSI spend on ed­u­ca­tion, from 31% to 43%. Should busi­ness lead­ers’ per­cep­tions re­main that ed­u­ca­tion is a lost cause in South Africa, it is pos­si­ble, and likely, that the needed spend in CSI projects in ed­u­ca­tion will drop.

Spend­ing more money on some­thing that has lit­tle suc­cess makes no busi­ness sense.

CSI ini­tia­tives in ed­u­ca­tion can of­ten be based on noble in­ten­tions but with­out a solid un­der­stand­ing of what is needed to make a sig­nif­i­cant change. There are too many glam­our CSI projects, es­pe­cially in the ap­par­ent quick fix of dig­i­tal learn­ing be­cause of all the prom­ise it holds, that at best, do noth­ing more than en­hance a com­pany’s im­age, and at worst, do noth­ing for the school sys­tem be­cause of the short­term fo­cus.

One of the Depart­ment of Ba­sic Ed­u­ca­tion’s (DBE) good ini­tia­tives is the An­nual Na­tional As­sess­ment (ANA) — the re­sults of which pro­vide a pic­ture of lev­els of per­for­mance in lit­er­acy and nu­mer­acy at the key tran­si­tional stages of grades three, six and nine. There are in­deed crit­i­cisms of the ANAs, but they do pro­vide us with a reg­u­lar snap­shot of whether ini­tia­tives that have been put in place are show­ing prom­ise. DBE min­is­ter Angie Mot­shekga pointed out when the 2014 ANA re­sults were pub­lished last year that 12 out of 81 dis­tricts achieved av­er­age per­cent­age scores of 50% and above in Grade 6 maths, so clearly the im­prove­ment plans put in place as a con­se­quence of the 2013 ANA re­sults have paid off. The 2014 ANA re­sults showed some heart­en­ing re­sults. Grade 1 maths came in at 68,4%, up from 59,6% in 2013. And Grade 2 pupils av­er­aged 61,8%, which is an in­crease from 58,9% the pre­vi­ous year.

As a player in South African ed­u­ca­tion, we see it as our role to sup­port the DBE’s work. In ad­di­tion to that, we also see it as our role to as­sist the many cor­po­rates who want to play their part in de­vel­op­ing ed­u­ca­tion in South Africa.

In that re­gard, Via Afrika has launched a ven­ture that will see us ap­ply­ing our ex­per­tise in this field by repli­cat­ing our own CSI ini­tia­tive — the Via Afrika Dig­i­tal Cen­tres. Launched last year, the Via Afrika Dig­i­tal Ed­u­ca­tion Cen­tre ini­tia­tive pro­vided a school in ru­ral Lim­popo, Mpumalanga and the Free State with re­fur­bished con­tainer li­braries fit­ted with 15 first­class An­droid tablets packed with Via Afrika’s ebooks and ed­u­ca­tional apps and Wi­Fi. To en­sure that the ini­tia­tive worked, on­go­ing train­ing was pro­vided for the teach­ers on tablet de­vices on how to im­ple­ment elearn­ing at the schools suc­cess­fully.

There has been much ex­cite­ment about dig­i­tal tech­nolo­gies in ed­u­ca­tion and how they are rev­o­lu­tion­is­ing the class­room. I firmly be­lieve dig­i­tal learn­ing holds the prom­ise to as­sist in al­le­vi­at­ing prob­lems in South African ed­u­ca­tion.

The cor­po­rate world has shown a com­mit­ment to de­velop ed­u­ca­tion. It is nec­es­sary to en­sure that cor­po­rate in­ter­ven­tions bear the in­tended and best fruits for our pupils.

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