Innovation needed in education

Education is a dynamic space to stay abreast of, because stakeholders continually innovate in the hope of improving outcomes. Motivated by the chronic lack of skills in the country, as well as a strong imperative to support government's development agenda, over 90% of South African companies allocate CSI funds to strengthening education, and around 40% of the total CSI spend is injected into this sector.

The hard facts
Despite the sustained focus on investment in its education system, South Africa is ranked close to the bottom for education (133 out of 142 countries) in the 2011-2012 World Competitiveness Report. The 2012 Annual National Assessment (ANA) showed the national average for grade 6 home language literacy stands at 43%. Further down the education track, only 39% of young South Africans obtain a national senior certificate.

Innovation breeds change
Given the enormity of the education challenge, can CSI really make a difference? Some would say the relatively small CSI education spend of R2.8-billion, compared with government's education budget of R232.5-billion (for 2013), makes the corporate impact negligible.

However, companies and their development partners have the ability to implement new solutions quickly and efficiently. Although corporate budgets are small, it is this innovation that makes a real contribution to development.

The challenges in education are complex and manifold, with the result that the many pockets of excellence that have developed over the years have not yet brought about systemic change. However, a number of new approaches are worth looking at.

An alternative system
Private schooling is not a new concept, but low-fee private schooling for the underprivileged is an innovative model that is on the rise in South Africa.

A 2010 report by the Centre for Development and Enterprise found that, in certain poverty-stricken areas, more than 30% of schools were private, and private schools were being established at a faster rate than public schools. The study found that parents chose these schools because they produced better results and because paying fees, however small, made the schools more accountable to them.

However, almost a quarter of these schools were unregistered, which meant that they could not access government funding. Even the registered schools experienced difficulties in accessing state subsidies.

Although they are clearly a viable alternative to the state system, there is still little understanding of how low-fee private schools fit into the education ecosystem, and whether and how corporate funders should support them.

ICT in the classroom
Companies can support curriculum-aligned content development that has the potential for expansive reach at a relatively low cost, particularly through mobile phone platforms.

At the same time, to adequately equip learners for the world they must prosper in, digital literacy needs to be integrated into the curriculum. With this in mind, it is no surprise that there is a move to take ICT out of computer labs and into classrooms.

Today's teachers have access to high quality teaching materials and learner monitoring software on digital and mobile platforms — if they have the confidence and skills to use them.

Corporates and non-profit organisations in the education space are focusing on equipping teachers with technology skills so that they can apply technology in their teaching, rather than treat it as a separate subject.

People pick up the skills they need when they need them, so it is vital to shift away from a standalone "computer literacy" approach to educating learners, and move towards viewing ICT as an integrated educational tool that is used in the classroom every day.

Co-ordinating solutions
No matter how innovative a solution is, a private funder cannot, and should not, try to replace the role of the government. Rather, companies should find ways to support the government and work within the education system to add to and strengthen existing initiatives.

Companies have acknowledged this by collaborating on the Basic Education Accord and the Dinaledi schools programme, among other initiatives. Although innovation is welcomed, fragmented efforts undermine overall success.

Considering the systemic change that is required, a higher level approach is needed to co-ordinate activities more coherently. Therefore, multiple stakeholders are collaborating in the National Schools Partnership to bring about change by using government structures to implement solutions.

This model includes a strong focus on the measurement of learning outcomes — rather than outputs — deepening the understanding of the successes and failures of development interventions to bring about meaningful change.

Delegates attending Trialogue's Making CSI Matter 2013 conference will have the chance to explore platforms that can be used to connect with young people, and ways to improve work prospects for young adults on May 28 and 29. For more information visit csimatters.co.za

Although this article has been made possible by the Mail & Guardian's advertisers, content and photographs were sourced independently by the M&G supplements editorial team. It forms part of a larger supplement.

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