South Africa’s matric certificate is not worth the paper it’s printed on: economist

South Africa needs to significantly overhaul its education system, with the matric certificate ‘not worth the paper it is printed on’, says Dr Thabi Leoka, founder of economic consulting and advisory company Naha Investments.

Speaking at the recent Allan Gray Investment Summit, Leoka pointed to the high number of graduates that currently cannot find jobs in the country.

“We need the education system to deliver matriculants who understand business so that they can start their own ventures, and create employment,” she said.

“We also need more flexibility of the degree requirements and subject choices at university, so that we can get more people employed.”

Leoka said that South Africa needs to move away from “throwing money at the poor to solve problems”, as this creates reliance on government grants.

“The poor have been increasing as a direct result of policy implementation,” said Leoka. In 2000, there were seven million grant recipients, in 2010 there were 14 million, and in 2021 there are 18.4 million people who rely on social grants, she said.

“We can’t spend our way through our problems. We are allocating a lot of money to consumption, but we need to allocate more to investment to grow the economy. We are also spending more money servicing our debt (11.8%) than we are on health (11.55%); it doesn’t make sense. We need growth to be suitable for our economy, but it is not.”

Not fit for purpose 

Professional services firm PwC has also called for a significant shake-up of the country’s school system.

“Clearly, the current education system is not fit for purpose to provide school leavers the necessary skills – and requires an overhaul,” it said.

“This is also a value-for-money issue: South Africa’s expenditure on education is amongst the highest in the world when expressed as a percentage of GDP.”

However, while the country’s expenditure on education is high on paper, in reality, much of the government’s education funding is lost due to mismanagement and malfeasance in public procurement processes.

As such, despite the large expenditure, the country has not seen the envisaged economic returns, the group said.

“According to the World Bank’s Human Capital Index (HCI), an average child born in South Africa today will not even reach half their productive potential which they could have if they had full health and education.

“Comparable middle-income countries spend less as a percentage of GDP, but consistently achieve much higher HCI outcomes,” PwC said.

Upskilling will be vital to ensuring that local industries are staffed with people who have the know-how to help drive economic growth.  This is the only way that South African children will reach their productive potential and contribute to growing the economy, the firm said.

“Our analysis shows that, when considering growth enablers like foreign direct investment (FDI), the ease of starting a business, electricity availability/supply, digitalisation, private sector investment, local content and knowledge capital, the gains to job creation from upskilling and improving knowledge capital would be the second most impactful after improving electricity reliability.”

Education needs to be better 

However, PwC warned that upskilling initiatives for young South Africans will not move to the next level if education fundamentals are not strengthened.

Despite great progress in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) education, literacy tests show that 78% of South African learners ages 9 to 10 are not able to read for meaning.

“Poor academic achievement is, in part, the result of underfunding and poor quality of the education system. In 2018, one in five public schools did not have proper toilet facilities; while 86% had no laboratory, 77% had no library, and 72% had no internet.

“A 2014 study of teachers showed that 79% of Grade 6 mathematics teachers have a subject knowledge below the level they are currently teaching.”

Immediate changes to South Africa’s skills and education systems should include a shift to lifelong learning pathways, the growth in digital education, and new funding models for higher education, PwC said.

Read: The worst is over for travel in South Africa says Sun International boss

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South Africa’s matric certificate is not worth the paper it’s printed on: economist