The transformation of education begins with teachers, a shortage of quality teachers and the consequent ongoing delivery of poor educational outcomes are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the challenges facing basic education in South Africa. The crisis looks set to worsen in the years ahead given that more than half of the current teacher population is over the age of 55 and will soon be heading for retirement.

We’re neither creating attractive career opportunities for student teachers nor graduating a sufficient number of teachers each year. Some 15 000 new teachers currently graduate each year and the need is for 25 000 annually in order to maintain an effective teacher-pupil ratio. However, between 18 000 and 22 000 teachers leave the profession each year, either due to retirement, or to switch professions, often in search of more lucrative income. 

Of particular concern is the dire shortage of specialist maths, science, technology and African language teachers and an over-supply of teachers in other areas. The shortage of specialist teachers is widely felt. 

Our children don’t fare much better when it comes to reading for meaning with a 2016 literacy study revealing that 78% of grade 4 learners were not able to read for meaning.

There has been enough talk about how dismal the results are, and this despite the fact that South Africa’s basic education sector is sufficiently funded, at least comparable to equivalent sized economies, spending around 6% of GDP on education. Why then do we have such a huge problem? 

Paul Esterhuizen, CEO of School-Days, believes it’s time to raise the bar and ensure the education sector starts focusing on attracting higher quality candidates. “Recent reports indicate that only one-fifth of Bachelor of Education students achieved more than 50% for maths in matric. Another, albeit older, study found that the majority of grade 3 teachers struggled to even achieve 50% in literacy and mathematics assessments designed for grade 6 learners. Given these alarming statistics it should not be any surprise that as a country we struggle with poor educational outcomes.” 

He says we’re doing the children of South Africa a disservice and that every child deserves access to quality education that positions them to find meaningful work as an adult.

“As a country we need to be making an urgent and concerted effort to improve education delivery standards because this impacts us all. Poor educational outcomes are a contributing factor to lacklustre GDP growth which in turn exacerbates unemployment, poverty and inequality.”

Esterhuizen believes business may have some of the solutions required to save basic education in South Africa. “There are already a number of encouraging examples of previously poor performing schools that are showing that with the right interventions, learner results improve. Consider, for example, advertising and communications group Joe Public United’s ‘One School at a Time’ initiative that has seen considerable success. And the likes of Kagiso Shanduka Trust, the Adopt-a-School Foundation and non-profit Funda Wanda have initiated and delivered on successful partnerships with provincial education departments.”

The School-Days CEO believes it’s time to draw the business sector in to partner with schools and fund whole school development, attract more student teachers as interns at schools and do this on a platform that enables sustainability. 

“The end goal has to be to continue to upskill our teachers, and keep them in the teaching profession,” he argues. 

“Given the long-term impact of education on the economy, we need urgent interventions to improve educational outcomes. This will require the political will to implement meaningful reforms, potentially rethinking how education is delivered and moving the focus away from merely covering a prescribed curriculum to encouraging mastery of that curriculum. We need to be attracting high quality candidates to the teaching profession and rethink how we train and support our teachers. We need to find ways to alleviate pressure on over-subscribed schools in the public sector and harness the power of technology to deliver quality education at scale.”

Over-crowded classrooms in many government schools prompt the need for parents to consider private education with independent education providers who have been positioning themselves to bridge the gap in the market for more affordable private schooling. 

For many families, however, private education is not affordable. Esterhuizen established School-Days to help families afford school fees. Based on reward and incentive programme principles that assist parents and members of the public to pay school fees, either at their own or at a disadvantaged school, the programme incentivises members to shop with partner merchants to earn Edu-Time Points (ETPs) while still earning their normal retailer loyalty points. ETPs can be donated to a chosen beneficiary or used to pay a child’s school, college or university fees. 

Esterhuizen re-iterates that, “We need to innovatively be challenging the business sector to participate in solutions to the basic education dilemmas that we face: the reality is that the current status quo must not be allowed to continue. The future of this generation of learners is depending on committed leadership to ensure that they receive the quality education they all deserve. Business leaders, now is the time to get on board with meaningful solutions.”