At an evening hosted by Symphonia at Grove Primary on 26 September 2011, entitled ‘Captains of Industry: How Can Business Leaders Make a Meaningful Contribution to Education in South Africa?’ Professor Brian O’Connell, rector and vice-chancellor at University of the Western Cape, spoke on the need for all South Africans to work together to change the state of education in South Africa.
A human rights issue
O’Connell stressed that education goes far beyond the classroom and a certificate. He describes it as a human right as with knowledge and education come the power for decision-making, increased levels of health, employment opportunities, a decrease in the many inequalities between South Africans and a stronger, functioning society. In contrast, without education, we lack a foundation for development and progress and thus limit South Africans’ potential for growth.
South Africa and the world
O’Connell referred in-depth to the position of South Africa within the world context. There are constant changes and development challenges globally and, in addition to this, South Africa has been attempting to build a unified education system without compromising quality since 1994. To this end, O’Connell states, government has failed. Faced with inequality in education and teachers’ skills, a culture of non-learning and no community involvement in schooling, the government’s attempts to offer youth a quality education has had little success. At the higher levels of education, South Africa lags further behind the developed world. These low levels of education have translated into poor economic growth, increasing poverty and a high prevalence of avoidable diseases. These far-reaching consequences highlight the wide-spread impact of a lack of education and O’Connell’s assertion that education is a human right.
Tackling the problem
Despite the challenges needing to be addressed and the daunting statistics O’Connell highlighted to the large number of people in the room – from business, government, education, NGOs and others with an interest in protecting our country’s future, that there is support for tackling the education crisis. Quoting John Lilly, O’ Connell emphasised that, “Our only security is our capacity to change” and that it is through the sharing of knowledge we can make a meaningful impact on education. Calling on business leaders to share their skills, Symphonia presented their School at the Centre of the Community http://www.symphonia.net/school.htm programme which has seen business leaders and schools partner with outstanding results. A key message emerging from O’Connell and Symphonia was that education is the responsibility of all South Africans. Each South African has his/her own skills to share and we need to value these contributions and promote engagement between all stakeholders. This will increase our capacity to change the education system and thus foster a generation of strong leaders and thinkers.
GreaterGood SA was one of the civil society partners at this event. We are looking forward to strengthening this partnership and attending similar events that provide society with the opportunity to draw on experts’ lessons and wisdom in the knowledge that, working together, we have the capacity to make changes in our education system.
- Prof O’Connell’s presentation.