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Rise up, free market, and educate our children

Another year, another skills survey that finds there aren't enough. Another year, another dramatic indictment of our education system.

Read time 4min 30sec

Skills gap wider than thought' reads one Brainstorm headline. Why that would be news is beyond me, because thought, on this issue, seems to be very narrow indeed.

Every year it's the same story. Our education system is not producing enough employable people, and companies can't find the staff they need.

The first answer to the lack of skills issue is quite simple: often, a complaint about a shortage is actually a complaint about price. Try doubling the salary you're offering, and see if you manage to attract the skills you need. Try training people, and see if you manage to develop the skills you need. Are those people getting poached? Try a contract that gives them training in return for a continuing employment commitment. Try an incentive not to leave, such as bonus options that become more valuable the longer someone works for you.

Pay enough, and the market has a remarkable ability to supply what you want. What many companies are really complaining about is not a shortage of skills, but that skills are expensive.

This is a cute theoretical argument, but sadly, there is a deeper, and far more real problem.

Inferior

The quality of our public-school education is a debacle. It is a catastrophic failure, and a tragedy for our youth. One can't use enough dramatic synonyms for this calamity.

It is true that the government should admit that its experiment with the future of our children has created yet another lost generation. That the intent was more benign than the racist oppression of the National Party doesn't change the outcome. If you'll excuse the pun.

It is true that government should fix it. One of the most compelling reasons to pay tax is to provide universal public education, after all.

But we all know that they won't. Or can't. Or couldn't be bothered, because ideological games and turf wars and pocket-lining are more important than doing right by our youth.

If we're generous, we might hope that they will, but a smart business won't bet on it.

It really is bad. Children at high-school level - who pass - cannot mentally add two numbers, or convert cents to rands, because they blindly use calculators. They have no inkling of what they're doing or why. They are asked to work out the area of a map region, but nobody ever thought it might be worth explaining that area is a two-dimensional quantity, obtained by multiplying length and width. Or that it might be worth teaching multiplication tables so they can do this. Comprehension questions, at grade 10 level (standard eight, for those who are my age), are quite literally answered in the text.

"They traded salt," says the text. "What did they trade?" is the challenging question that is aimed at teaching our youths to think.

It is true that the government should admit that its experiment with the future of our children has created yet another lost generation. That the intent was more benign than the racist oppression of the National Party doesn't change the outcome. If you'll excuse the pun.

Ivo Vegter, ITWeb contributor

Mathematical literacy is meant to teach them enough to get by. It does no such thing. Literacy involves knowing the meaning of things. Or at least knowing rules to discover those meanings. Math literacy does neither. They have to do everyday things to which they supposedly can relate, but without either a robotic grasp of rules or an intuitive grasp of meaning, they're grasping only at straws.

Really, it's terrible, and the disastrous matric results are only the scum that floats on the surface of the stagnant, putrid pond that is public education in South Africa.

Save yourself

The solution, therefore, is simple. If government isn't going to save us (who'da thunk?), we must save ourselves.

Instead of complaining about a lack of skills, develop them. From primary school up. Forget larney innovation centres and tech incubators. Set up after-school centres where kids can come to learn from real teachers. Fund private schools so they can accept more and poorer children. Encourage employees to volunteer.

Even if you save one kid from the poverty and stupidity to which government seems hell-bent on condemning them, you've achieved more than our education department.

Fantasy land

The welfare state has always been a pipedream, and especially so in a country that has neither the necessary resources nor the established, sophisticated bureaucracy to lavish on it. So stop depending on it.

Everyone has a corporate social responsibility budget, which it grudgingly spends on feel-good nonsense that at best has some marketing value. Use it. Whatever you do, don't give it to the government, or government-allied organisations. Spend it on establishing private education support and alternatives, directed at the youth. Brand it, if you have to. But please, just educate our children, because if you don't, the skills shortage problem will outlive you.

Will that make skills more expensive? Sure they will. But then, we already knew they were more expensive than we'd like, because otherwise there wouldn't be a shortage in the first place.

So, enough whining. Face reality. Do something. And do it yourself, because the government isn't going to do it for you.

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