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SONA 2020 - online learning the only solution

BY: SGI|18 February 2020
BLOG| Finance, SGI Flagship Programmes, Business leadership and strategy

In the State of the Nation Address, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa announced plans to combat South Africa's record-high youth unemployment, climate change, energy problems and he outlined the plan to fight corruption and mismanagement within the state. Will these solutions secure South Africa's future? Online education has a massive role to play in the future of not only South Africa but also the rest of Africa's development.

We are taking a look this week at the major themes of the SONA address in South Africa as we see it.  

Youth unemployment and higher education

During the state of the Nation Address, President Ramaphosa stated that one per cent of South Africa's budget would be set aside to aid youth employment. The budget allocation will be the first of six initiatives that will be implemented over the next five years to combat youth unemployment.

Ramaphosa said: "We will ensure that every young person in this country has a place to go and can contribute to the growth of their communities and country". In doing so, the youth would need critical skills such as Managing Finances, Managing Operations, Managing knowledge and Innovation, Managing talent and the workforce (HR) as well as Data Science skills. These critical skills will allow the youth of South Africa to build a better future for us all.

To assist with the critical skills required, Ramaphosa stated: "We are building nine new TVET college campuses this year, in Sterkspruit, Aliwal North, Graaff Reinet and Ngungqushe in the Eastern Cape, and Umzimkhulu, Greytown, Msinga, Nongoma and Kwagqikazi in KwaZulu-Natal."

But would this be enough? If we consider that more than 798,000 students write matric and annually exit the secondary education system. Typically at least 50% of these individuals are likely to want to complete tertiary qualifications, then that means that we would need 300,000 new places per annum to service local demand. Of these only 150,000 currently qualify with exemption from the university system now – which indicate that the re-enter the system later as adult learners. Across a time-spectrum of 5-7 years of education, this would also imply a higher education system with at least 2,000,000 seats with an additional 1,000,000 seats allocated to the ongoing education of a workforce.

If SA could do this, then it will meet the international benchmark where an average of 3,6% of a population would be in higher education at any given point in time. In South Africa, this would be approximately 2 million people. Using these measures, we can conclude that the education system needs to double and probably triple.

Doubling would mean that we need to build another Unisa and another 28 universities. Tripling would mean that we need to develop an additional 30 large universities of the scale of our current national universities. That is a total of more than 100 large scale universities that are required to service the current need - without taking into consideration the role that we can play in Education in Africa.

A high-level estimate shows that it will cost SA at least R 300 billion to build sufficient university infrastructure over the next 5-10 years, to put in place the necessary capacity that will serve the current needs of the country. This view motivates the size and scale of the transformation that is required. It also excludes the cost of paying for the actual education which can easily be another R 300 billion.

In contrast, – it costs significantly less to offer education to an online student. In the hands of the students, the additional cost of travel and accommodation is also reduced and at the same time, and it is far more likely that an online student will enter or already participate in the productive economy. Online learning gives you the possibility to combine independent learning with your work or family responsibilities, thereby allowing you a personalised learning experience that suits your needs. 

Considering the flexibility, affordability and the fact that students get a dedicated learning coach to assist them throughout the course, it is clear that online learning is the only option for South Africa's youth. 

Climate change

Ramaphosa stated that the climate change bill will be finalised and will provide a regulatory framework for the effective management of inevitable climate change impacts by enhancing adaptive capacity, strengthening resilience and reducing vulnerability to climate change. Furthermore, the government is identifying new industrial opportunities in the green economy.

According to recent studies, online education institutions can reduce carbon emissions. Students that choose to study online can reduce Co2 emissions from 81kg to approximately 3kg per student. That is 156,000 tons per year of carbon emissions that can be saved. The main contributors to the reduction of Co2 emissions include a decrease in transport needed, electricity needed to power physical Universities and residences. Online institutions can reduce traffic congestion, decrease Co2 emissions from transportation used and lower electricity usage required for brick and mortar classrooms.

Not only does online learning make it easier on the students as it allows more flexibility and easy access, but it also benefits the environment around us. If you've never considered the green aspects of online learning, you can be sure that by choosing an online course, you are not only changing your future but the futures of generations to come.

Energy and State-Owned Enterprises

"The load shedding over the last couple of months has had an incapacitating effect on the South African economy and our people. At its core, load shedding is the inevitable consequence of Eskom's inability over many years – due to debt, lack of capacity and state capture – to service its power plants."

Ramaphosa explained that for Eskom to undertake the fundamental maintenance necessary to improve the reliability of supply, load shedding will remain a possibility for the immediate future. Multiple initiatives are being launched to change our national energy trajectory. These are megaprojects that will require proper advanced project management in themselves but will open up and stabilise markets which involves leadership and functional operations management skills.

If we combine all the debt that South Africa's state-owned enterprises accumulated to date, it will amount to a shocking R570 billion. "After years of state capture, corruption and mismanagement, we are working to ensure that all SOEs can fulfil their developmental mandate and be financially sustainable" - President Ramaphosa. For organisations such as Eskom, there is much to be learnt from courses such as effective directorship to allow them to build a wise organisationbe prepared for risks and evaluate and improve current project performance.

All of us need to enhance our approaches to support a new South Africa that will very different from the one we live in today.

A better state workforce

Recently there has been a lot of focus on the 1 million people working in government and their skills sets. Prior to SONA a lot of focus was given to the fact that government employees need to be adequately skilled to do the work that they are employed for. It seems that the government will become much harsher to people that are not suitably qualified. This is an opportunity for existing government employees to sharpen their skills and improve their qualifications before the axe starts swinging. 


News24. (2020). Fewer learners to write matric in 2017. [online] Available at: https://www.news24.com/SouthAfrica/News/fewer-learners-to-write-matric-in-2017-20170912 [Accessed 5 Feb. 2020].

Africa Check. (2020). factsheet: Funding and the changing face of South Africa's public universities | Africa Check. [online] Available at: https://africacheck.org/factsheets/factsheet-funding-changing-face-sas-public-universities/ [Accessed 5 Feb. 2020].

Solid Green Consulting. (2020). Online Green Education with a Click | Solid Green Consulting. [online] Available at: https://www.solidgreen.co.za/online-green-education-click/ [Accessed 5 Feb. 2020].

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