ANC must get education right if it wants to mine richer seams
I’m talking about the much-reported calamity in Limpopo, which has resulted in the lack of delivery of textbooks to thousands of schoolchildren in the province six months into the school year.
Through what appears to have been one or more of the following – greed, incompetence, bungling, inefficiency or even sabotage, as the ministry has suggested – the already questionable schooling meted out to countless children has been severely hamstrung. Six months of learning without books! Or, in some cases where there were books, they were the wrong ones.
The head of ANC policy, Jeff Radebe, was right when he described this as a great shame on the nation. It is indeed a disgrace. And it was ironic that each fresh twist and ugly turn of the mess seemed to emerge in the week in which the governing party was embarking on its policy indaba.
Unemployment, poverty and in-equality have been identified in the ANC’s policy documents as the biggest challenges facing the country. In the discussion documents for the conference, education is lumped together with health – and it is a vague, wishy-washy document. It seems to downplay the severity of the crisis South Africa faces when it comes to poor education outcomes and it rehashes some of the pledges and promises made in the past about improving skills.
Where there is a frank acknow-ledgement of the severity of our education problem is in the body of research known as the “State Intervention in the Mining Sector” or Sims document.
It is a thorough and well-researched document looking at the varying ways in which resource-rich countries have sought to reap greater benefits and have greater control over the natural riches of their countries in order to aid social and economic development.
It makes comparative analyses between countries such as Chile, Venezuela, Brazil and Zambia, as well as the oil-rich Scandinavian countries. Some attempts at state intervention or operation and control have been successful, but others have been downright policy and financial misadventures.
There are useful examples and proposals that South Africa could emulate, but at several places in the report there is the warning that all of this will amount to nought if education is not prioritised.
“No country has managed to attain a high level of economic and social development without appropriate investment in good-quality schooling and post-school education. No resource-based industrialisation has succeeded without developing technical skills.”
There it is in black and white. Whatever the ANC decides to do with the mines in December, it will fail in its objectives if it does not get the basics right; that is, to ensure that children have schools to go to, with classes, shelter, books, able teachers, toilets, running water and electricity. And then teach them something worthwhile.
I was intrigued by an interview conducted by Talk Radio 702’s Jenny Crwys-Williams last week with a Mauritian government official. Mauritius is an economic success story in Southern Africa.
The official spoke about diversification from tourism to textiles and how the country was now repositioning itself as a shopping haven.
Other than making it easier for business to invest and operate on the island, he said one of the things that had guaranteed growth – and he kept repeating it – was that “we’ve educated our people, we have an educated workforce”. That makes the country nimble in that people are able to feed into and ply their skills in whichever sector is booming because they are skilled.
It all appeared so simple. It may not be a fair example, given that Mauritius is so small compared with South Africa, but the principle is a basic one – and one we simply do not seem to get right. In South Africa, 95% of the unemployed are uneducated and 72% of them are young.
As long as we continue to procrastinate and apportion blame, we will not reap the economic rewards sorely needed and that, as the mining sector document reminds us, is our biggest nightmare.