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SA Education Standards miss the Mark

Jan 22, 2013

SA education standards miss the mark

While South Africa patted itself on the back about improved matric results, world organizations have said it’s not enough.

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, which says, “skills are the global currency of the 21st century,” gives a long list of failures in South Africa regarding education:

  • South Africa spent only 4.8% of its annual income on education in 2009, compared to the OECD average of 6.2%.
  • The World Economic Forum in its 2012-13 World Competitiveness Report ranked South Africa second last in terms of maths and science education – only just ahead of Yemen. It ranked SA 133rd out of 142 countries in terms of the “quality of its educational system.”
  • Only 54.3% of South African women are active in the workforce, compared to 71% elsewhere.

Liza van Wyk, CEO of skills training and management education organization, AstroTech Training in Johannesburg said, “It’s not just government that is being lax about South African skills development, business is also not doing enough to create the conditions for innovation, productivity, and profitability.”

She said that although AstroTech courses were well subscribed, “our delegates represent only a fraction of what is needed to move the economy forward. I was concerned to read in the latest OECD report on South Africa that in 2009, 32.8% of South Africa’s youth were neither in employment nor in education or training, that was nearly double the OECD average of 18.6%. It also said that in 2012, the unemployment rate of South Africa’s youth was 49.2%, compared with the OECD average of 17.1%.”

However, the OECD said there were also not very big skills shortages in the workplace; echoing the findings of a recent Chamber of Mines report. Van Wyk said, “Once people get into the workforce, they are usually well-matched to skills levels, which sensible companies then work on developing. The problem arises with new graduates or those fresh out of school.

Employers complain that new entrants to the workforce are often ill-equipped, and require extensive training to become productive. We see it all the time with our various programmes to help new managers, as an example, learn how to manage staff, balance the books, and motivate employees.”

Trade union Solidarity says only half of those with only a matric are employed compared to 80 percent of those with some higher education.

Stella Carthy, head of skills development at the Chamber of Mines (CoM), says, “Companies should consider internal training, especially with regard to already skilled individuals to get them to the level required by line management.”

Van Wyk said, “We have seen a trend over the last two or three years for companies to ask us to send trainers to them so that more people can be trained on the company premises with less down time for travel and no accommodation costs.

The very big companies in South Africa are sensitive to the importance of ongoing training at every level of the workforce, but there needs to be a broader vision: one designed to assist schools, motivate teachers, and give more mentoring and internships to help young people develop a sense of what they need to know for a successful future career.

“Ultimately we all play a role in the education of young people, and the ongoing education of our workforce; to have a maths and science ranking just above that of an impoverished nation like Yemen means we have lost our way as a nation. We can’t wait for government to remedy the situation, we all need to become involved. Now.”