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When education is neglected, there can be no progress

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Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu said: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, but teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” This comes to mind when I think of the value of education and the role it plays in producing meaningful economic development. 

Our forebears had the wisdom to recognise that when people have knowledge and skills, society will witness change and see growth. As the United Nations Development Programme states, education is a “critical invasive instrument for bringing about social, economic and political inclusion of people”. 

Education provides a foundation for development. It is a springboard from which a nation can build its economic and social wellbeing. Education affects all aspects of life and gives a sense of purpose and meaning. 

Social development is predicated on education and, until we achieve universal access to education, social development cannot be fully achieved. 

In our eagerness to educate the future generations, we have neglected aspects of the education system in South Africa. As civil society, we have surrendered the responsibility of education to the state. Although it is the role of the government to create an enabling environment for education to thrive, the responsibility also lies with the private sector and society at large. 

The failures of the education sector are partly because we have chosen to absolve ourselves of the responsibility of being custodians over our young people’s education. We have outsourced our responsibilities and have taken the decision not to take ownership of the education and the investment into our young people. 

A unified civil society working with the government can transform the education sector. Government has many demands to service with a limited fiscus and this necessitates collaboration with people and the private sector. Partnership is the new necessity for education and the only way to accelerate progress. The education sector only can succeed if we all work together, take ownership, and invest in the education of future generations. 

When I look at older generations, I am reminded that many did not have the opportunity to have formal education or a career. They attached so much value to the importance of education that the next generations reaped the benefits. Today, many first-generation scholars will tell you that their parents, despite not having studied, instilled in them an appreciation for the value of education. 

At Unisa, our mission is to produce complete and adaptable graduates who are grounded and exceptional in what they do. In our academic programmes, we ensure that our courses respond to the developmental trajectory of this nation and our continent. 

We have courses that have sustainable development at their core to assist students to prioritise the advancement of society. We want our students to contribute meaningfully to society and the economy at large. The nature of our teaching and upskilling produces graduates who are resilient, proactive, independent, competitive and, most importantly, problem-solving critical thinkers. 

No country can achieve sustainable economic development without substantial investment in human capital. If we ensure that young people understand that the development trajectory of the country is dependent on their efforts to get educated and grow, we will achieve sustainable development as guided by the National Development Plan

As a sector, we should prioritise innovation, research, learning and provide lasting solutions that serve people and move the needle on social issues. 

Education is the weapon that enriches people’s understanding of themselves and the world and leads to societal benefits. 

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Mandla Makhanya
Professor Mandla Makhanya is a sociologist who holds positions in several international higher education associations and is the principal and vice-chancellor of Unisa.

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