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Effective Collaboration is Imperative to Overcome the Education Crisis in South Africa

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South Africa’s education system is in dire need of support. Top education researchers have found that a third of primary school students in South Africa can be categorised as “functionally illiterate”. A 2023 report released by the Centre for Development and Enterprise (CDE), an independent policy research and advocacy organisation, explains that (adjusting for post-COVID learning losses), it is now thought that 82% of Grade 4 learners cannot read for meaning. The CDE report, ominously titled The Silent Crisis, reveals shocking statistics showing that, despite significant public expenditure, South Africa remains at the bottom of all international tables on learning outcomes in reading, mathematics, and science. The report references concerning statistics by the Progress in International Reading and Literacy Study (PIRLS) that reveals that 78% of 10-year-olds in South Africa “cannot retrieve explicitly stated information and make straightforward inferences”.

The implications of a failing education system are numerous, with a combination of existing socio-economic challenges facing the population, country, and continent at large. Poor levels of education impede the ability to break the cycle of poverty for individuals and their families due to limited earning potential. It often results in long-term unemployment, putting further pressure on the already severely strained South African economy. It also leads to an increase in social ills such as crime, and the use of drugs and alcohol. All in all, the current trajectory paints a bleak picture of the future for South Africa.

While government has the responsibility of developing the national education system, we as citizens and entities in the private sector should not ignore the urgent need for transformation within the education sector. After all, we each have a vested interest in the country’s future prospects and growth potential. Making a real and significant difference requires the collaboration of various private sector entities, along with the support of the public sector.

Structured partnerships between various organisations with the shared goal of positive transformation of the education landscape allow for the merging of complementary skills and resources, resulting in exponentially impactful outcomes. It also facilitates the creation of more robust, sustainable solutions with reduced duplication of services and focal areas.

Overcoming poor literacy levels and assisting children to read for meaning is crucial to education development. One organisation doing just that is Funda Wande, a not-for-profit organisation that focuses on improving early-grade reading and mathematics outcomes. Funda Wande focuses on prioritizing, thinking through and testing interventions that will lead to all children learning to read for meaning and calculate with confidence by age 10 by 2030.

Social franchise SmartStart is another future-forward organisation focused on Early Childhood Development (ECD). SmartStart harnesses the power of partnerships, community, and collaboration to provide a unique national delivery platform that addresses various shortfalls in the country’s education system. The platform tackles issues such as the shortage of quality pre-schools, the shortage of adequately trained and licenced teaching practitioners, and the lack of affordable, quality early learning programmes.

The pivotal and impactful work done by such organisations is dependent on the support of corporate private sector partners and investors. Not only does this support allow these organisations to continue their invaluable contributions to the positive future of the country and its people, but it also allows them to evolve services and expand their reach. This enables the provision of even more meaningful contributions to an ever-changing socio-economic ecosystem with growing demands.

Funding organisations such as the FEM Education Foundation (FEMEF) bring together multiple education-focused organisations under one umbrella, providing much-needed financial support and mentorship. FEMEF, which was founded by The Federated Employers Mutual Assurance Company (FEM), is a non-profit corporate and social investment initiative. To date, R750 million has been paid into the foundation, to facilitate the delivery of immense financial support to education-centred NGOs and projects, who in turn, contribute tremendously to positive transformation in delivering education development outcomes.

As we look ahead to 2024 and beyond, a solution-focused collaborative mindset will be instrumental in ensuring a progressive future for the country, starting with our youngest citizens. Succinctly summarised in the fourth instalment of the CDE’s report, “The best way for systemwide reform to be enacted and entrenched is if business, philanthropic foundations, civil society, the media, parents and learners themselves (and hopefully, teachers, principals, union leaders and education officials, too) push collectively for fundamental change and monitor the speed and efficacy of its implementation.”

It’s time for us to turn the tide on the looming education crisis and work as a collective to change the narrative and reality to one of hope, advancement and success. 

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