The public and private sector need to work together to increase investment in education. Picture Brenton Geach.

Johannesburg - The International community must apply the same vigour to solving the world’s education problems as it does to health, poverty and climate change issues.

The corporate sector was challenged at the Global Education and Skills Forum in Dubai to double its annual contribution towards education from $548 million (R5.9 billion) to $1bn this time next year.

The reason the private sector has to up its game is simple: it’s in the interests of business to invest in education because ultimately, it’ll get a more skilled workforce – something severely lacking in both developed and developing countries.

The second reason, as former US president Bill Clinton put it, is that no government or institution can provide universal access and improve the quality of education alone.

UN Global Compact executive director, Georg Kell, was blunter.

“Businesses can’t thrive in societies that fail.

“It’s in their interest to be part of the solution,” he said.

Some countries have already learnt this lesson the hard way.

Andreas Schleicher, an education policy expert, said: “In Europe, we’re finding it out the hard way that you can’t bail yourself out of an economic crisis, you can’t stimulate your way out of an economic crisis. You can only grow your way out of the crisis. That has to do with (human capital) – it’s all about skills.”

He said role players need to realise the benefits of education are long term while the costs are short term and to manage this, there has to be solid leadership that will make the right strategic choices.

“The economic returns are very clear. Why are people, governments not looking at this return in investment?” Schleicher asked.

He said it’s not just the government spending in education that should increase.

“We need to mobilise society’s resources to address the shortfall in education,” he said.

The chief executive of Equity Bank in Kenya, James Mwangi, said the gap between what businesses need and what skills people have can easily be bridged if businesses are up for it.

He said companies know exactly what they want and, in most cases, can train prospective employees.

David Crone, who is with the UN GEFI Youth Advocacy Group in the UK, said in terms of youth skills development, the private sector’s contribution doesn’t always have to be financial.

He said just by opening its doors and offering training and possible work opportunities to young people, the private sector can make huge strides in creating skills development opportunities for the youth.


- About 200 million young people in developing countries have not completed primary school, meaning they don’t have the basic skills they neede to work.

- The cost of achieving universal secondary schooling is estimated to be $8 billion a year.

- Only $1.9bn was contributed in 2011 by donors towards basic education, despite the shortfall of $26bn per year to achieve basic education in low-income countries.

- The population of 15- to 24-year-olds is over a billion in the developing world. Because of the limited investment in quality education, the world could soon have the largest “skill-less” population in history, depriving businesses of talent that drivers economic growth.


Source: The UN Global Compact and the UN Special Envoy for Global Education (2013) - The Star