Corporates want to play a part
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.