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Listening to the Budget Speech on 20 February, I believe Minister Tito Mboweni did the best he could in tough circumstances. The context of our economy is a challenge. Eskom is an apt metaphor for the mess we’re in. However, with the largest single allocation within the budget going to education, there’s reason to be hopeful.
It was interesting that the Minister of Finance reiterated repeatedly that we will not take on our state-owned enterprises’ debt. He was sending a clear message to investors that we’re handling the current crisis cautiously and focusing on economic growth. When investment flows out, the availability of capital goes down and the price of capital goes up. We can’t afford to let that happen. We’re in a tight spot and education and employment are critical to the socioeconomic inclusion vital to get our economy to reach its milestone of 1.5% GDP growth.
In terms of education, we’ll have to see how the promises in the Budget Speech play out. Learning and culture received the largest budget allocations of R1.2-trillion. The detail of how this will be invested was vague. In the State of the Nation Address, President Ramaphosa placed great emphasis on the importance of ‘future-proofing’ our workforce for the Fourth Industrial Revolution (Industry 4.0) by training teachers and learners in emerging technologies. He promised new tech subjects and specialisations would be introduced, with every school child given digital textbooks on a tablet.
The Budget Speech didn’t mention how this would be rolled out. For us, it’s imperative that the implications of Industry 4.0 are thoroughly explored so our young people, especially, can ready themselves for a new economy. We need to be in touch with what the market is asking for, identify the jobs we’ll need and the qualifications our youth will require to capitalise on these emerging opportunities.
It’s been 25 years since democracy. Going forward, here are some changes I want to see in the education space in the next 25 years:
Firstly, higher education is a complex environment with lots of overlapping issues and different agendas. I would like to see less of a trust deficit between public and private providers of higher education. The fact is that universities have insufficient capacity to cater to the number of people needing education. The ‘traditional bricks and mortar’ model isn’t enough. More trust needs to be placed in private enterprises like Stellenbosch Graduate Institute (SGI), which is regulated and accredited by the same bodies as traditional institutions. We need to take hands and become trusted partners with each other – the public sector cannot take on this great challenge alone.
Secondly, we need to prepare learners better than we’re currently doing for tertiary education. How do we ready young people for Industry 4.0? That transformation in thinking has to take place at school level, before learners reach tertiary institutes. It needs to be a systems-thinking approach. There are so many touch points in that space. Think about the demand for data scientists, data analytics, etc. Data is the new gold of the new economy. How do we equip young people to understand and get ahead in this space? And to learn complementary soft skills like leadership capabilities? How will we one day manage a team which includes two robots? Or a virtual group of people based all over the globe? How do we teach young people to build smart cities? What competencies will they need? Government, higher education institutes, businesses, and primary, foundational and ECD providers will need to collaborate to achieve this.
For SGI, the focus on Industry 4.0 and technology poses massive opportunities. Our model is built to be simultaneously scalable, whilst providing individual attention. Parents and students are looking for learning opportunities that have strong return-on-investment prospects – namely future employment. That’s why instilling practical, future-ready skills as well as theoretical knowledge is imperative for us. Our online, tech-focused approach also allows us to reach more people, while our learning coaches ensure each student receives continuous one-on-one attention to have an optimal learning experience. Going forward, we foresee more of these kind of entities emerging.
Finally, we need to convince our young people to have enough faith in us to stay in South Africa. This means creating more jobs to combat despondency. It means offering stronger academics, continuous learning opportunities and more interesting professional prospects. Above all, we need to foster an atmosphere of creativity. That’s where our youth want to operate. As South Africans we have an innate ingenuity. We need to create the enabling, stimulating environment where that can thrive.