Private sector needs skills

Developing a nation

Skills edu.jpg

Government is spending an enormous 21% of the national budget on education, but turning the situation around needs involvement from the private sector, too. Fortunately, South African business is investing significantly in direct interventions in education. Business leaders realise that this is a matter of long-term business sustainability – one of the biggest threats to economic growth and job creation is a shortage of skills in middle management. Economic growth is simply not possible unless we produce more professional graduates from among the poor. Most of the professional organisations – in engineering, accounting, banking and health care, among others – are now funding programmes to improve the teaching and learning of mathematics and science, starting at school level.

The most effective of these programmes are those that understand all of the obstacles faced by disadvantaged learners. Money is only but one aspect of the problem; homes without water or electricity, long journeys and a lack of graduates as role models and mentors in poor communities and hunger also have a devastating effect on academic performance. If companies are going to identify and support gifted candidates, their programmes need to address all these issues to succeed.

There is hope – and help

Learners determined to overcome their circumstances, in turn, need to know that there is support available – but it’s up to them to find the professional body for their chosen career, and ask what programmes exist. Anyone considering a career in Chartered Accountancy, should investigate SAICA’s Thuthuka Bursary Fund (TBF) Programme. The TBF programme is financed by corporate donors, and funds university studies in accountancy. It recognises that empowering exceptionally bright African and Coloured learners requires more than simply paying their fees.

“Anyone who goes to university needs a support system,” says Jelvin Griffioen, TBF Programme Manager at the University of Johannesburg (UJ). “It’s difficult enough as it is, and if you don’t have a core group, or any other family that went to university, it’s even harder. Even trying to talk to your parents about problems you’re having – they don’t have the experience to understand what you’re going through. You need a sense of belonging, to feel comfortable.”

The TBF provides that support system through bursaries, which not only cover tuition, accommodation, and books, but also includes extensive academic and non-academic support. TBF students are grouped together in the same residences on campus, so first- and second-years have access to mentorship and coaching from third- and fourth-years. TBF students also receive a monthly allowance, so they can participate in student social life and practise the social and professional networking that they will need in their careers. The programme works – TBF students have lower drop-out rates, and their marks and pass rates, are better, in many cases outperforming even more advantaged students. The success and results of this programme have prompted a number of partnerships between Thuthuka and government, designed to improve financial management in the public service.

However, the Thuthuka programme starts even before university – identifying exceptional African and Coloured mathematics students at school level and providing extra lessons and other support mechanisms to improve core mathematics knowledge in grades 11 and 12. Students who achieve high mathematics marks are channelled into the TBF programme at various universities. TBF students return to their communities between university terms – and frequently, after graduation – where they are available as mathematics tutors and academic mentors. By finding and supporting the brightest mathematics talents from townships and rural areas, the TBF programme is based on the presumption that it is more likely that those students will return to their areas when they qualify. This not only injects business skills directly into the community, it also provides the role models that school-going youth in those communities often lack, which will hopefully inspire them to focus on their educational possibilities.

Claiming your rights

All South Africans, whatever their economic status, have a right to quality education. However, simply knowing that this right exists will not make it happen; waiting for a perfect, state-delivered school system will simply take too long for talented and ambitious children in senior school. It’s a right many learners have to claim for themselves. South African youths – and their parents – who are determined to do so are already investing everything they can in education, but it is also their responsibility to explore the help available in both the public and private sector. Those who plan to work in finance and accounting need to excel in mathematics at school level – with that in mind, they would do well to investigate the Thuthuka programmes at school and at university levels thoroughly.

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