Danielle Rowe is a history teacher at Dainfern College, which has done a sterling job of incorporating technology in education. The school has taught its primary school learners to work with Edmodo, an online classroom or simplified Facebook. Photo: Bongiwe Mchunu

AT LAST month’s Brics summit, it was confirmed that a new international development bank and emergency lending pool would be set up by Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

The New Development Bank is intended to compete with the World Bank and its lending arm, the International Finance Corporation, by making it easier for developing countries to gain access to large-scale financing for infrastructure projects.

In order for Brics nations to continue to develop and to improve their infrastructure, and to be able to feed the skills demand that growth will inevitably demand, these countries will need a strong workforce, an educated skills force.

Governments of the Brics nations are now more than ever under pressure to improve learning outcomes; and the long-term opportunity in global education is greater than ever. As rapid advances in technology continue to disrupt the world of work, the economic value of education and skills will continue to increase.

Yet the challenges in education are great. About 60 million children are out of school; around 800 million adults globally are functionally illiterate. South Africa is not alone in the fight to improve education outcomes.

For Brics nations, a critical question to ask is: what are the human skills that will be needed to fuel our infrastructure goals? Both hard and soft skills are needed. These include leadership, digital literacy, communication, emotional intelligence, entrepreneurship, a sense of global citizenship, a problem-solving and a team work ability.

The 2014 Learning Curve report, compiled by the Economist Intelligence Unit, is designed to help policymakers, educators, academics and specialists to identify the key factors that determine improved educational outcomes.

The resource gathers and interprets data from 50 of the world’s education systems and provides insights that allow policymakers to understand the links between educational inputs, learning outcomes, performance and success.

Findings in this report show that the average time spent in school by a country’s students and the labour productivity of its workers have been statistically linked for the past two decades.

The study also compared education data from the Brics nations.

When comparing public expenditure on education as a percentage of total government expenditure, and when comparing public expenditure per pupil as a percentage of gross domestic product per capita, South Africa spends more on education than China, India, Russia and Brazil.

In the 2014 Budget speech, Minister of Finance Pravin Gordhan announced that R78 billion would be spent on university subsidies and R19.4bn for the National Student Financial Aid Scheme, while R34.3bn would be dedicated to school infrastructure.

Government expenditure on education continues to grow, despite slower economic growth, which Statistics SA announced was only 1.9 percent last year, the second-lowest number in a decade. This means investment in the education sector is not translating into economic growth. We have to ask ourselves what the outcomes of these massive investments are.

Great educators remain vital, but they face an uphill struggle without buy-in from engaged learners and stakeholders. Governments should build economies that properly use their populations’ literacy and numerical skills to also slow the “brain drain”.

Developing countries such as ours need to overcome difficulties in teaching basic skills successfully first, before moving onto conversations about higher levels of education, and continued adult learning.

South Africa may not have the luxury of time, but a successful education system is a long-term investment, one that only reaps rewards years later. Immediate actions at foundation level, and then at higher education level, will guarantee the skills economy is successful and thriving.

As Brics nations, we need to continually share evidence around what does and does not work in education. Some solutions will be country specific only due to individual country circumstances. In the end, we need to successfully educate populations for life and work in the 21st century.

Riaan Jonck is the chief executive of Pearson South Africa. The Learning Curve Report is an independent study compiled by The Economist Intelligence Unit, funded by Pearson.