CSR as a Possible Answer to Our Education Challenges

As the annual debate of whether or not the pass rate should be lifted rages on, we are yet again faced with the reality that history will question whether or not we collectively did enough to adequately prepare this generation of learners.

Education certainly remains an effective tool to a self-sustainable country which is able to lessen and possibly eradicate the inequality gap on many levels. So if this is obvious to most then we need to widen the focus of whose responsibility it is to address the quality of education in South Africa? Traditionally the focus at this time of the year is always on the Department of Basic Education (DBE) but the focus needs to be wider. We need to consider whether or not corporates and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are doing enough to strengthen the education sector. 

While we acknowledge that DBE has many ‘challenges’ to address, we must also acknowledge the fact that the corporate sectors support of this sector is not only complex it is also very challenging. We commend those companies that have been undeterred by possible complexities.  Companies such as Dimension Data and Vodacom among others are well known for using information and communication technology (ICT) to assist in the fight against illiteracy and ultimately poverty.

For ICT companies the link is obvious as they can be a powerful conduit for the transfer and spread of information to all parts of the country. This is extremely important when you consider that there are still many parts of the country that are largely removed due to the absence of basic infrastructure such as roads and electricity. Learners in rural communities are certainly the most vulnerable due to the absence of these amenities. So for ICT companies that are already playing an active role in these communities, they are creating the only access for young learners to keep abreast of the development opportunities that their urban counterparts are exposed to. It is pivotal to provide rural schools in particular with access to information so that learners are not left too far behind.

As stated above it is encouraging to see companies taking an active role in addressing some of these concerns. The companies mentioned above in particular donate computers to schools and access to the Internet. But for those communities where there is no electricity this presents serious challenges. Nevertheless, their intervention remains invaluable as it lessens the gap between urban and rural learners.

As the language debate also attaches itself to the pass rate debate, technology could be seen as a means to remotely provide teaching software in different languages to assist learners. Technology could also help ensure the timeous delivery of learning material so as to once and for all quash the annual textbook delivery debacle.

It is a given that it is not enough to merely provide schools with up-to-date technology, there must be well trained teachers aux fair with it. ICT companies can assist educational institutions in providing learners with access to online textbooks and other learning resources.

As changes are being made to improve the education sector, those involved should not lose sight of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals and in particular those goals that address the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger, the achievement of universal primary education, the promotion of gender equality and empower women and other related goals that can be indirectly addressed through education.

With respect to the goal related to improvements in primary education in particular there is a global recognition of education as a basic human right and achievable developmental goal.  For corporates it makes business sense to play an active role in addressing education woes. Corporates will certainly appreciate the fact that one of the important conditions for their success is a stable social environment. If corporates are responsible for being the driving force behind creating an open market and free trade, education should not be seen as an exception. By playing such an active role corporates can assist their brand building efforts. They can choose to use their corporate social responsibility (CSR) to support a number of initiatives beyond what many may regard as mere ‘cause marketing.’

Regardless of which corporates and NGOs avail themselves to assist, DBE will still need to take the lead in integrating all pledged resources. DBE will need to leverage the offer of up-to-date technology and human resources that will assist in optimising the education system. 

In conclusion there is arguably a low level of corporate involvement beyond the initiatives described above and beyond once of donations. As corporates make their new year’s resolutions, let us hope top of the list will be efforts to move CSR beyond once off donations. Corporates should not be deterred by the argument that it is difficult to measure social impact in a way that their investors would appreciate. Corporates should rise to the challenge and look to ensure that their CSR implementation and reporting reflects visible and significant outcomes.

- Janine Mosetlhi is managing director of Dara Consulting (PTY) LTD. 

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