The grim situation of the education sector is not limited to South Africa and there is a global call for collective action between government, business and civil society.
Globally, at least 250 million of the world’s 650 million primary school children are still unable to read or write, according to a report commission by the UN education agency. Rethinking collective responsibility for public education’ was the theme for this year’s Global Education & Skills Forum (GESF) which was held in on 12 and 13 March 2016 in Dubai, with the aim to discuss how public-private partnerships can help achieve quality education for all.
What was very clear from the Forum was that the issues experienced by South Africa with regard to poor quality of education are experienced in other countries around the world. There were 1,600 delegates from 110 countries with 22 ministers of education in attendance. People were committed to reach out, learn from each other and share their innovations.
We are very far from quality education for all at the moment. Even though the UN’s Millennium Development Goals contributed to improved access (more children in school), 58 million children globally still do not attend primary school and half a billion are attending failing schools. More than 8 million children in South Africa are in failing schools.
The only way to change a failing education system is by business, government and civil society working together. We need a shared vision for educational reform. The beauty of a shared vision is that all parties involved will benefit when education improves.
Speaking at the GESF, Tony Blair, former British premier and founder of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, said that education is now the biggest determinant of whether a country succeeds or fails.
Another speaker, Sunny Varkey, reminded attendees that the world has made a commitment to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), with Goal 4: Quality Education for all, at the heart of all the goals, without education the other SDGs cannot be achieved.
The education systems increasingly do not supply the skills employers need, said Andreas Schleicher Director for Education and Skills, and Special Advisor on Education Policy to the Secretary-General at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in Paris during his address at the GESF.
There is wide-spread recognition that governments cannot do this on their own. Business and society expect children to have the skills to succeed in the 21st century. However, those schools that are disconnected from the industry will never achieve this. The only way that we can ensure that students are ready for the world is to break down the boundaries.
At the Forum, Blair stated that the private sector has a critical role to play to help with experimentation and innovation in schools.
An overwhelming take-away from the GESF was that teachers are at the heart of quality education. As Andreas Schleicher said so eloquently: ‘The quality of education will never exceed the quality of teachers’.
Technology can supplement good teachers but if you don't have great teachers, you have no chance. A critical enabler to make the most of ICT in the classroom is without a doubt teacher training. Teachers are critical to make the most of ICT by moving from presenter to facilitator.
In Singapore only the top 3% of students are able to apply to be teachers and they earn as much as graduate accountants in their first year of teaching. In Singapore teachers are acknowledged and celebrated for their role as nation-builders.
At the GESF the important role of leadership in schools was also highlighted. Blair said that he had never come across a good school with a bad leader and that school leadership is critical.
Schools and education have been inaccessible for too long and it is time to open education for all and people need to recognise that it is a societal responsibility. Everyone, including businesses, government and citizens, must take greater collective responsibility for education.
Louise van Rhyn is the Founder and CEO of Partners for Possibility (PfP) and one of the representatives from South Africa at the Forum.