As the South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SACCI), we extend our congratulations to the hardworking students, teachers and schools who were successful in the matric results of 2019.
However, as the preeminent and most representative structure of organised business, and a critical social partner, we have to enquire what, if anything, the significance of the reported “improved results” is, and what the results mean in reality.
The relevance of the annual Matric results reporting, and the contribution this makes to the attainment of the stated development objectives of the republic of South Africa, ought to be a directly linked measurable outcome.
We acknowledge, of course, that the authorities have made significant strides in improving the quality of the curriculum content to move it to a respectable standard.
South Africa faces significant challenges in the area of economic growth, job creation, poverty alleviation, hunger and inequality.
The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index, the Harvard Centre for International Development’s Economic Complexity Index, and SA’s National Development Plan, all serve as a roadmap and guide notes on what South Africa should be prioritizing.
The area of human capital development is at the centre of achieving most of the objectives that a developing country should be focusing on.
In the last 200 years, there have only been less than 10 non-western countries, that have managed to move from developing to developed economies. These are countries such as Japan, Singapore, Taiwan, Israel, South Korea.
China and Brazil are predicted to become developed economies in the not too distant future.
The majority of these countries are not endowed with significant mineral resources as is the case with SA.
What these countries have managed to do, however, was to be rigorous and focused in their human development index objectives, to build human capital, skills, innovation and enterprise.
Given the above context, it would be unwise not to interrogate the meaning of SA’s “improved” matric results.
As we amass better data and insights for a clearer view, this needs to lead to a management review and corrective action.
The inadequacies of this model of the South African public education system grows ever more stark.
This is a serious area of concern.
In the last five years or so, we have seen the reported trend of around half of the students registered in grade 10, not showing up in the registered-to-write matric statistics. We need to have a better grasp of this massive dropout rate and its root causes.
Added to this have been reports, attributed to the higher education department that the graduation rate at TVET colleges, allegedly averages 30% of those who enrol.
Furthermore, Statistics SA have reported that there are more than 8m young people between the ages of 16-34 who are not in school, are not in any tertiary education institution, are not in any learnerships, and are not employed.
Another report indicated that more than 40% of university students are repeating a year at university. These are all significant problems in the conveyor belt from early childhood development to tertiary level education to post education skills development.
This appears to be a ticking time-bomb and we need to know what the education authorities are doing to address this significant social injustice, and political instability risk.
We call upon the government and other social partners, including business and labour, to focus on understanding the root causes of this problem, and find long lasting solutions, from the issue of early childhood development, to the foundation stage, primary education, the upper grades and restricted and lack of universal access to quick and easy acquisition of knowledge and skills occasioned by lack of mother-tongue driven content and instruction.
The results relating to under resourced, historically disadvantaged areas, and rural community schools, must be looked at separately, and not be swallowed by “averages” in provincial and national reporting statistics, as this might be masking the real problems.
This is the biggest area that should give us insight around inequality and poverty. These are the things that may be contributing to SA’s high unemployment rate and slow economic growth.
The optics and metrics of the data around the development of the girl-child needs insight and a special focus. Gender equality is one of the key UN SDGs, and the biggest opportunity for SA business to develop new markets. It is not an issue that should only show up as a late entrant in corporate boardroom discussions, when it should have been given proper attention and resourcing, in early childhood development.
The scientific insight required needs to lead to specific, clear and measurable corrective management actions.
Failure to fix this massive human development problem in a comprehensive way, will not only sink the SA economy, but may lead to the unravelling of the republic itself, and turn the dream of a successful constitutional democracy, into a nightmare. History is replete with examples of these negative scenarios playing out in other countries.
Pointing fingers is now a luxury we can no longer afford. This is now an urgent matter that requires bold and decisive action.
We have to work together for the betterment of the country.
If not us, who? If not now, when?
Failure is not an option

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