Educating the citizens of South Africa is the key to a successful nation, says Gold Fields chairperson Mamphela Ramphele.
"An education that focuses on both the skills needed to earn a living as well as living lives that are meaningful provides an impetus for excellence and relevance," she said in Pretoria on Tuesday.
Delivering Unisa's 2012 Founders Lecture on Educating and Training the 21st Century South African Citizen, Ramphele said Unisa had a large role to play, with its fellow higher education institutions in a country with an education system which was failing so many children.
"The poor quality of education in our country is generating poverty and inequality and undermining the opportunity we have to build a nation united in its diversity," she said.
"The failure to close the gap between the education available to poor children and that which is accessible to their wealthier peers is entrenching inequality."
Ramphele said it undermined the nation's ability to compete and to flourish in the 21st century.
She said government was weighed down by conflicts of interest between its role as equity holder of Telkom and being a regulator.
"The current stalemate which has resulted in expensive and inaccessible bandwidth for the majority who need it most is costing the country billions in inefficient public services," she said.
"Poor quality teaching and learning has cost us potential investment opportunities and lowered human and intellectual capital formation. We have to find a way of breaking this log-jam before it is too late for many more millions of children and young people."
Ramphele lamented the widespread xenophobia in South Africa particularly against citizens of countries which gave refuge to exiles during the apartheid years.
"Why is the South African version of xenophobia so specifically directed at fellow Africans and not at other foreign nationals?" she asked.
"The job that needs to be done is to go deeper than providing explanations for xenophobic behaviour and to start having the conversations about the steps we should take to overcome and get past these differences."
Ramphele used Brazil as an example for leveraging its largest-economy status in the region to become the central node of Latin American human and intellectual capital with huge benefits for its own sustainable development needs.
"The networks of post-graduate students and research collaboration have made Brazil a powerhouse. The relatively small investments in open access to post-graduate studies for students from the Latin American region are paying back huge dividends."
The 21st century demanded high standards of knowledge and competence, Ramphele said. The countries that excelled at preparing their young people for those opportunities were the countries that thrived. – Sapa