Registered users can save articles to their personal articles list. Login here or sign up here

How to (really) radically transform the SA economy

Quality education should be government’s top priority.

JOHANNESBURG – It is really concerning that South Africa is a quarter-century behind with regard to education and the development of its people, the CEO of Investec Asset Management, Hendrik du Toit, said during a recent interview.

Over the last 25 years South Africa didn’t do the groundwork needed to keep up with an extremely competitive international environment. In a world where computers and robots were reducing job opportunities, it was important to ensure that the population was competitive. The issue was not about race or redistribution but about growing the economy to the benefit of all South Africans and ensuring that the poor and previously disadvantaged also reaped the rewards, he added.

Du Toit is not alone in his concern. Despite a narrative that has largely focused on political controversies and the downgrade of South Africa’s sovereign credit rating to junk, various commentators have stressed the importance of quality education to reduce poverty, inequality and unemployment in recent months.

On Monday last week, part-time NPC commissioner, Elias Masilela, said South Africa feared to deal with its real issues including how it could provide good quality services like education.

“If you resolve education as a country, you have resolved a significant part of the inequality conundrum that we are faced with,” he said.

Even before South Africa’s sovereign credit rating was downgraded to junk by both S&P and Fitch, Karl Leinberger, CIO of Coronation, argued that the downgrade was not the real issue – but rather underlying problems including the steady decline of primary and secondary education, imploding tertiary education, an absence of a national productivity ethic and the fact that South Africa’s people and companies were becoming increasingly uncompetitive internationally.

The sentiment was also echoed by the Old Mutual Investment Group’s chief economist Rian le Roux recently when he said: “There is only one way to pull people out of poverty, unemployment and reduce inequality and that is through education.”

On a visit to South Africa, prof Jeffrey Sachs, American economist and director of The Earth Institute at Columbia University, also argued that South Africa had to improve the quality of education to ignite economic growth.

“A fully-diversified economy requires a much higher skill level than the average available in the [South African] workforce.”


That South Africa’s education system needs significant work is clear.

The World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report 2016/17 ranks the quality of the country’s primary education 126th out of 138 countries. The quality of the higher education and training system is ranked 134th while the quality of maths and science education is placed in 138th position.

Highlights of Mathematics Achievement amongst Grade 5 South African leaners in the latest Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMMS) lay bare the poor average performance of pupils in mathematics. The authors noted however that the performance was “highly unequal”.

“Three in five South African learners (61%) do not exhibit the minimum competencies in basic mathematical knowledge required at the Grade 5 level. When achievement patterns are broken down by school type, the patterns reveal the depth of the inequalities present in the system. Approximately 84% of learners in independent schools, 67% of those attending public fee-paying schools and 25% of those at public no-fee schools achieved the minimum level of competency,” they said.

Yet, maths and science skills are critical in a world where technology and innovation is key to competing on the world stage.


Although #feesmustfall protests have put access to tertiary education firmly on the government agenda, there seems to be varying views within government ranks about the quality issue.

“The education system is not achieving the desired outcomes. Priorities for government in the years ahead include expanding access to and the quality of early childhood development, overcoming institutional weaknesses in basic education, broadening access to effective vocational and technical skills, and improving the impact of resources devoted to vocational training. In all these areas, additional resources may be needed – and strong interventions to unblock institutional constraints are required,” National Treasury said in its Medium-Term Budget Policy Statement.

Whether this will remain the case following president Jacob Zuma’s controversial cabinet reshuffle in which finance minister Pravin Gordhan was axed, is unclear. And although the ANC’s 12-point plan to radically transform the South African economy, refers to education on two occasions (“… ensuring connectivity of schools…” and “implement free higher education for the poor and produce no less than 5 000 PhDs per annum by 2030 and urgently generate more artisans”) it doesn’t explicitly refer to the quality of education.

As the ruling party gears up for its elective conference in December amid significant infighting and a national election in 2018 in which it hopes to regain its composure following the disappointing results of the municipal election, it is unlikely that the quality of education will receive the attention it deserves. Moreover, addressing the quality conundrum will require a critical and uncomfortable conversation with labour partners about evaluation and education time lost due to strikes.

Although fixing the education system will likely take years even under the best of circumstances, one also has to ask whether minister of basic education, Angie Motshekga, is really the woman for this mammoth task.

Ultimately, the problem is that South Africa seems to be stuck in perpetual crisis management mode, and only appears to deal with its issues once it has escalated to full-blown emergency status. In the meantime, government’s failure to address the quality shortcomings of the education system will widen the inequality gap and poor students will suffer the most.

With economists now predicting that it will be difficult to reach economic growth of 1% in 2017 following the downgrade to junk, South Africa cannot afford to let another year let alone quarter-century go by before it addresses the quality issue.

And yet, if it stays on the current trajectory, this is exactly what will happen.

Oops! We could not locate your form.



To comment, you must be registered and logged in.


Don't have an account?
Sign up for FREE

Quality education requires quality teachers. Since large percentage of the teachers could not pass matric in the subject they teach, what is the chance that they can provide quality education? Even if by some miracle the government decides to make education a priority and by an even bigger miracle SADTU would not oppose getting rid of bad teachers, it would still require 10-20 years to have the education sorted out. So what will happen to the current generation of students? How will they fit in the modern economy?

Echo your sentiments 100%. Even if my some miracle SADTU loses power and government prioritises schooling and retooling the population for a competitive modern economy, that will take 20 years at least. In the interim, you will have masses of unemployable, susceptible to populist propaganda/rhetoric such as land redistribution etc.

I will sadly be joining @robertinsydney in Oz since the prospect of shifting our radically unequal society is little/no chance in the next 20 years.

Promise I won’t be commenting on SA sites when in Oz that’s for sur (take note @robertinsydney)

Good luck in Oz. I wish I was young enough to go there. Please do not give up commenting on SA sites, sometimes looking at things from the outside gives one a better perspective. There is no law prohibiting comments from non-residents. I left Hungary 47 years ago and still comment on some Hungarian sites. Sometimes I get similar negative reactions as robertinsydney.

And just as our dear future Pres. “Nksosozana” statements at the “ANZ youth” meeting in KZN stated this weekend , not only must we transform the education, universities but also the teachers and lecturers, all to the great applause of the ANC youth.

In support of this article, quality education is absolutely vital. The need for 5000 PhDs p.a. by 2030 is mentioned presumably because there is some data on how the number of PhDs affects the performance of a sophisticated economy. However, it is not the number of PhDs that is important, it is the number of quality PhDs. Many of our PhDs are excellent, but others are nothing more than a large Masters degree. A trained PhD graduate must demonstrate that they are able to think in an original way and through their scholarship add significantly to the body of new universal knowledge.

It costs a fortune in time, effort and funds to train a good PhD graduate. When weak PhD graduates are produced, those future PhD supervisors may train other PhD students in a way that does not result in quality PhD graduates. If that continues, one ends up with dozens of PhD graduates that cannot contribute to the development of a sophisticated economy as they should.

what a load of dribble! 25 years down the track suddenly wake up to the fact that perhaps things weren’t quite right from the beginning. may surprise everyone that education is about 15 years long. so if you start now – it may be right in 2032!what happens in the meantime with all the economic factors against you – what happened to all those opportunities since 1994 – as per the movie – GONE WITH THE WIND. no need to go back to basics – and nothing more basic than the 1913 lands act.

Between the incompetent minister and the criminal and delinquent teachers’ union there is no hope whatsoever that basic education will be fixed. Go check out the union’s website for a few laughs and giggles. (What is with the quasi-military uniforms?) Appreciate what the children of this country are exposed to and at the mercy of.

And the state of education in SA is the real reason why one should despair for the country. Despite the billions of rand that get poured into this abyss, the government is absolutely incapable of getting it right. It will take two generations to fix, at the very best.

Pretty soon, South Africa will not even have the skills to be a sweat shop for the rest of the world.

Make sure that you plan and financially provide for a private and/or overseas education for your children and grandchildren.

Sadly your prediction of a “sweat shop” status could very well prove true. And yet our self-centered leaders only worry about how the party “looks” and maintains power. Not a care in the world when it comes to quality education – not sure they understand what it really means. As long as they’re seen to spend enough taxpayer money, they feel it’s enough. Education and skills training is what should be their “second revolution” and it should be the country’s obsession. Not going to happen now or in the near future. Sad.

We know all this already. Unless there are some real creative ideas on how to tackle 1) the need to have an meaningful impact in at most a few years and 2) how to handle SADTU and teacher capacity in general then there isn’t a window left to solve the challenges. The union and teacher capacity problem exists in many other countries including the US but there don’t seem to be many impactful solutions there either.
Public Private Partnerships and super low-cost private education looked like they might have promise but are also struggling in the political environment – see
Maybe some form of significant joint SADAC program? Even a country like Zimbabwe might have something to bring to the party from a teaching perspective.

O yes, this is so vitally important. Is there anyone in government who is passionate about this task, as it is really THE most important task at hand at the moment I believe. Surely there is a group that can go and understudy some other country’s methods – we have the Cambridge system in our country which is excellent and there must be sooo many others – come on government, show us that you can do more than just squabble and get your teeth into something that will make our beautiful people and country tops – we all deserve and want it.

The three basic pillars underpinning society are healthcare, security and education and they must work in unison in order to lay a foundation upon which to build the sustainable growth of that society. Sadly, our dismal education system is no better than our crime-infested neighbourhoods and diabolic public hospitals. All three pillars are crumbling. While the rest of the developed world is busy with ground-breaking science and technological solutions, we rank 138th in maths and science. We have no clue how far behind the curve we actually are. Our global competitiveness is weakening by the day as evidenced by our latest growth forecasts.

You forgot the fourth and most important pillar, food. Oh wait, we are killing our farmers. Nevermind.

One solution to the SA education crisis would be to junk it altogether and to adopt a globally accredited, standardised universal curriculum for subjects such as maths, science, geography, biology, accounting/finance/entrepreneurship, english/spanish/chinese, etc. This could easily be facilitated on the Internet. Algorithms could be built for grading/scoring and the final result would then rank on a global scale – a universally accepted level playing field. The upshot would be an unbiased weeding out of the can from the cant-do’s and a standardised education system to feed a global job market.

This might help but the average pupil in this country is also not very clever. Go look up the average IQ for South Africa, you will be shocked. Places like Singapore have very good education rankings, but that is in part due to the fact that the average IQ in Singapore is 108.

Sadly this wont play to the agenda of the racial engineers. It is like the ill-fated SAA cadet programme in Australia that was canned when they started failing too many black cadets, because merit was the sole criterion. Then the inevitable is that the curriculum is “too western”, aka “too sophisticated and difficult”. The racial engineers are happy as long as certificates are issued by the numbers and required ratios. Quality and merit are for westerners.

Never gonna happen.

70% of our people will fail “matric” and be relegated to being labourers shop assistants and other helpers. The other 30% may make a honours in a limited number of instances.

In any event this does not fit the decolonisatiion insanity.

You all forgot, this country wants decolonized education, no maths or science A and history will be stories told under a tree about hunting buck with sharp sticks.

It also doesn’t help that South Africa is the world leader in fetal alcohol syndrome. Mommy drinks whilst pregnant, baby dumb for its whole life.

And Mommy sticks out hand begging after child born, and also gets child grant in order to perpetuate the cycle.

Completely agree with Robert-in-Sydney.

The ENTIRE premise of this article is total nonsense.

This is the usual politically-correct dogma. That inequality is due entirely to a lack of education, and that the fix for this must be to jack up the “quality” of education.

Now, without a doubt, if you examine the vast inequality across our nation, the immediate and very glaring difference that one notes, is indeed this huge gap in “education”.

But the $64K question from that observation (and which Inge Lamprecht and her vaunted quoted economists completely fluff!) is – is this poor education the DRIVING root cause, or merely the passive SYMPTOM of a deeper, and underlying ROOT Cause??

In Inge’s and her fellow economists’ world-view, there is absolutely no doubt. “Education” is the panacea which fixes everything. And ergo, all effort must be put into “fixing” education, because that ONE aspect is where (according to them) the “real” problem (and hence solution) lies.

Except that is NOT where the problem really lies! At all !

The problem instead lies FOREMOST in the poor quality of the CHILDREN. Not so much in the poor quality of the education that they are getting (although there are certainly aspects there that can do with improvement).

No economist or media commentator wants to address this aspect, yet the evidence for this is abundant and non-negotiable. It is the elephant in the room.

A simple examination of the raw education data IMMEDIATELY shows the REAL problem – the kids that struggle are not intellectually gifted (I’m being polite!).

Yet the cleverer kids – born into this SAME “bad” educational environment, do achieve. Why is that so? And is that observation not an important clue, Inge?

This difference is almost ENTIRELY due to the QUALITY of the PARENTS.

The “quality” of the school and the teachers and the books has got very little to do with the outcome.

Quality parents overcome these obstacles, while poor-quality parents abdicate their parental responsibilities to the schools (they think that it is the schools that make their children “clever”, and that if their child is a dumbass, it’s got nothing to do with them at all – it’s all the fault of the “bad” schools and “bad” teachers. Or Apartheid. Or Colonialism. Anybody – but them!).

My point is that GOOD, QUALITY, PARENTS, (and not education per se) are the fundamental building block of a successful society. “Education” naturally sticks to their progeny.

The ECONOMIC solution must be to FIRST focus on encouraging good parenting habits amongst the poor.

Yet NOTHING is being done in this regard. There is neither leadership, nor media, nor political commentary on this shortfall. As one of these errant practitioners, why is that so, Inge?

Social grants encouraging young teenage motherhood amongst irresponsible sections of the population are accomplishing the very opposite of what we should be doing.

There is a population explosion amongst the poor. This growth is the biggest threat to both the poor, and the future of SA. The poor have no capacity to create more jobs, and the fiscus is now running out of money (and ability) to cope with their increasing demands).

There is very little that can be done for stupid children already born. This is simply not a problem that education can EVER fix. And it is irresponsible to suggest otherwise.

Until we face up to this elephant in the room, the path forward can only get worse.

Capiche, Inge?

I agree totally. As long we feed the youth with perverse incentives, we can expect more of the same poor outcomes. Teenage mom handouts, free condoms, even mooted at primary school level. This is the primal behaviour we are encouraging and putting out as “normal” and “ok”. But then look at our “leaders”! A sorrier and more pathetic bunch you won’t find anywhere.

The total lack of a civilised value system is that elusive thing the liberal elites don’t get

Check your maths, TonyD – unwanted children are far more expensive than condoms.

Adolescents are always going to have sex, the only question is whether or not they do so safely.

Absolutely agree, but “civilised value system” will just be downplayed as “colonialism” by the ruling ANZ783’s and have no place in Africa.

The paradox and tragedy at the heart of the South African education dilemma is that, for the current ANC-Zuma regime to stay in power, they need an uneducated (ignorant) voting block [cf Mugabe]. Not unlike Vervoerd’s devastating bantu non-education policy. They are hugely conflicted – how else to explain a country whose per capita spend on education is amongst the highest in the developing world and higher than some European countries. Yet it goes nowhere and a blind eye is turned to corruption and total misallocation of resources. In other words its a tacit unstated government policy to not really fix education. Failed education and unemployment (about 70% for available 16-24 years olds)are the two defunct wings that are flying the South African bird of state into the abyss.

Just take a look at the current education syllabus, start at grade one, and it will eminent that the hole syllabus is a subtle brainwashed political inspired agenda.

To keep and the youth transformed in “radical” thinking and ANC policies, based on the Freedom charter.

This is why we need economic transformation, I doon’t know about the radical part. But there are many talented individuals in this country who are never given an opportunity to contribute to society due to the skewed and racist nature of this economy.

The exception proves the rule. I admire this young man for what he has achieved, but it does not detract from the undeniable truth as stated by #The Observer.

That link has nothing to do with the article and squat to do with radical economic transformation.

Good job though for the guy who perservered.

I grew up as a orphan.I learnt very early that a person must fend for himself.I educated myself going to night school and ended with a diploma.I know of many parents who lost a lot of money by sending children who studied in directions they did not have a passion

Blah blah blah……………..usual junk.

There is only 1 solution: a bullet for the anc in 2019 (they are too cowardly to go for and early election as May has in the UK)

In the short term zuma to be ejected now.

In any event education cannot precede civilisation. Full stop.

Surely this is the fault of colonialism and white minority capitalism? I think we need to be told … apologies to Private Eye …

“Quality education should be government’s top priority.”

Absolutely! Starting with the President ….

Load All 34 Comments
No more Comments, leave a reply.


ZAR / Euro



Follow us:

Search Articles:Advanced Search
Click a Company: