It’s become a South African ritual. Once a year we announce our matric results, celebrate the individuals who performed and bemoan the deficiencies of the school system. Much of the reflection is based on pretty superficial analysis. For example, the focus on the headline pass rate is highly misleading: it’s reasonably high (at over 70%) when seen against the learners who wrote the exams, but shockingly low (35%) when compared to those who entered the schooling system 12 years ago.
Even more importantly the quality of the standard required to pass is abnormally low – in some subjects the students only have to score 30% to meet the requirements. In the hard sciences, such as physical science and mathematics, South Africa is at the bottom of the rung when compared to other countries.
This does not mean that there hasn’t been some improvement over time. Take for example the absolute numbers of scholars who have qualified to enter University studies. Here’s the progression:
It’s a pretty steady improvement from 85k in 2007 to 166k in 2015 – a near doubling in 8 years. There’s no reason why it cannot double again in the next 8 years and then double again over a similar period. If we did end up with 664k students who qualified for University in 16 years time, it would still be around 50% of the initial school intake. It is eminently do-able given that most advanced countries and some emerging tigers see >90% of their scholars graduate to tertiary education. Still there is an even more important question than the throughput of the schooling system:
Is the overall education system at all relevant in the modern, rapid-changing world?
We know that many blue-collar jobs will be automated but probably completely underestimate how many professional jobs will no longer exist in 20 years. The Economist offers their view on which jobs will be computerised by 2023: Bring on the personal trainers.
Not only will jobs like accountants and estate agents no longer exist, but the skills for jobs that we know today will change completely.
And a whole lot of new jobs are likely to exist.
For an interesting but obviously speculative overview of 162 jobs of the future, you can read Thomas Frey’s view here.
It’s pretty clear that our existing university system is not at all prepared to develop these skills. This is a far greater challenge to our education system than our narrow focus on matric results.
What am I doing about all of this?
I’m one of the founders of projectcodeX, an initiative that circumvents an expensive and theoretical 3-year Computer Science degree with a 1-year hands-on coding apprenticeship.
We’ve recruited competent youngsters from disadvantaged backgrounds and trained them with the skills to secure sought-after jobs as junior developers. It’s a way of overcoming unemployment and solving the huge need for skills within South African corporates and start-ups. There is plenty of opportunity to scale the initiative from the initial 40 to hundreds and even thousands.
If you are a business that needs junior developers or have projects for the coders to build, or if you are an individual that wants to help by sponsoring developer seats, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By doing so you will achieve far more than simply bemoaning a deficient education system. You’ll become part of the solution.