25/05/12Education options for the Western Cape
Business, government and academia discuss the options for education in the Western Cape
In a show of solidarity between business, government and academia, business think tank and catalyst Accelerate Cape Town succeeded in bringing business leaders and leaders in education in the Western Cape together to discuss education challenges that impact on the local economy.
The discussion took place at a packed Accelerate Cape Town Member Meeting at Deloitte in the Cape Quarter on Friday. The meeting was attended by the leaders of over 40 of the Western Cape’s top companies, including financial institutions, property groups and multinational corporations, as well as academic institutions, consultancies and the recently launched Economic Development Partnership.
Insights into the education system were provided by Donald Grant, Minister of Education in the Western Cape, who spoke about the school system and education as a foundation for economic growth, and Max Price, the Vice-Chancellor of UCT, who provided some detail on the Green Paper on post school education.
Guy Lundy, CEO of Accelerate Cape Town, said: “Business needs the education system, at both school and tertiary levels, to produce the skilled people required for our economy to compete internationally.”
Lundy said education was an integral part of Accelerate Cape Town’s long term plan for the city, ‘Vision 2030’, which positioned Cape Town as a globally competitive city of innovation and inspiration. “We need to produce amazing thinkers and leaders. This means that we need not just PhD’s, but also enough people with good matric passes and technical skills that business can use,” Lundy said.
Minister Grant said that the Western Cape Government recognises that education provides an important foundation for economic growth and has developed a number of strategies to improve learner outcomes in the Western Cape.
Minister Grant said, “Through the provision of a quality education, we can significantly improve the life chances of and create opportunity for our children. Through being educated, people are better placed to secure a job, earn an income and ultimately lead lives they value. ”
Minister Grant explained that the performance of public ordinary schools is a key indicator when determining the performance levels of government in education. “In South Africa, we have a highly autonomous but under-managed schooling system in which poor decisions that affect the quality of education are often taken. In the Western Cape, we are pleased to be seeing a positive trend in the performance of our public ordinary schools, particularly in the results achieved over the last two years in the National Senior Certificate examinations. We believe this positive trend is a reflection of a maturing provincial education system responding positively to a number of systems improvements,” he said.
Minister Grant highlighted some of the systems improvements that have been implemented in the Western Cape to improve learner outcomes. These include:
• Greater investment in teacher development (with an increase in the allocated budget from R8 million when he took office to R95m today);
• Filling of vacant educator posts quickly and appointing new principals on demand;
• Reducing the time taken to finalise key and expensive HR practices;
• Locating key decision-making functions closer to schools; and
• Introducing more cost effective and value for money processes for the building of schools and the procurement of support materials.
“We are focused on key drivers of quality and have introduced a number of programmes to ensure that the system is embedded with quality. These programmes include the standardised literacy and numeracy tests for Grades 3, 6 and 9; the unprecedented rollout of textbooks; leadership training courses for our school management teams; a comprehensive strategy for turning our under-performing schools; the training of school governing bodies; as well as the introduction of school improvement plans for each of our schools,” said Grant.
Two programmes that particularly interested business leaders include:
• the opportunities to partner with government in improving education outcomes; and
• the improvement of technology in schools to strengthen and support quality teaching in schools.
In particular, Grant said that the Western Cape Education Department has committed itself to providing each school principal in the province with a PC tablet by the end of this year to improve the way in which the Department communicates with and provides support to its principals. Grant said that the Department has also prioritised the provision of high speed broadband internet connectivity to all schools (particularly those serving poor communities) to improve access to the information highway for all users, regardless of their location.
Grant said, “In the Western Cape, we believe that no government can, by itself, guarantee a better life. Progress can only be realised as the product of partnerships between government, citizens, civil society and business. Each has a role and specific responsibilities. We therefore welcome the opportunity to partner with corporates to improve learner outcomes in the Western Cape.”
Given the on-going migration of learners into the Western Cape and increased pressure that is then placed on our schooling system, Grant indicated that there is great scope for corporates to provide support in accelerating the implementation of the Western Cape Education Department’s infrastructure development programme, school maintenance programme and ambitious school IT expansion programme. Grant added that the impact of Corporate Social Investment (CSI) initiatives is this regard, for example, should be tracked and monitored to ensure maximum results.
Vice-chancellor Price spoke about the Green Paper on Post School Education, which deals with universities, Further Education and Training (FET) colleges, skills training programmes and other education programmes.
Price first spoke about post-school education in the Western Cape in general. He said the four universities in the Western Cape fared well compared to the rest of South Africa, because of their world class research strengths, their higher-than-average course success rates and niche programme offerings. He pointed out that UCT is ranked one of the top 200 universities in the world, and that this makes it very popular as a partner university to top international universities. He added that the Western Cape’s six FET colleges were also among the best in the country, with the highest throughput rate in the country.
“Higher education is an important partner in regional development. Vibrant and strong higher education institutions are critical for advancing democracy, development and critical citizenship,” said Price.
“The production of graduates with high level skills, research and innovation is key to economic growth for the knowledge economy. Stronger higher education institutions help to make regions attractive destinations for potential investors, businesses, students, academics and conferences.”
He expressed concern, however, about the fact that both the province and the country do not have enough FET colleges, or an adequate throughput rate, compared to other emerging economies. The balance between enrolment in universities and FET colleges is also incorrectly skewed towards universities, he maintained, with insufficient school leavers enrolling in FET’s. This could be attributed to concerns about the relevance of FET programmes, insufficient levels of innovation and research by FET colleges, lack of coordination or proper systems to inform planning in the sector, and high levels of unemployment of FET graduates.
Price said he was encouraged by the fact that the Green Paper sought to address many challenges in post school education in South Africa, but he feared that some targets were unrealistic. For instance, to meet the Green Paper’s targets effectively would require establishing 10 new FET colleges nationally per year over the next 20 years and 7 new universities per decade). “We have to ask ourselves, is that at all feasible?” Price said.
Price said business had a role to play in establishing additional, in-house training institutes to ready school leavers and graduates for the working environment. “The public sector can’t grow fast enough. It can’t do it all on its own,” Price said.
Lundy said Accelerate Cape Town would take the education debate further on 30 May at a thought leadership dinner with the four Western Cape university vice-chancellors and key regional CEO’s. Accelerate Cape Town, together with Allan Gray, also hosts regular Inspiration Sessions to address the retention of young black professionals in the Western Cape, with the next session being held on 31 May.
“We encourage our corporate members to support the provincial education system and to play their part in helping to create and retain the young talent that will help us strengthen the local economy,” Lundy said.
For further comment please contact Karen Breytenbach at The Phoenix Partnership on 076 280 9411, 021 686 2331 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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