Poor education, unemployment threaten national security
Opinion / 11 September 2014, 08:00am / Zoleka Ndayi
THE RECENTLY released World Economic Forum (WEF) Global Competitiveness Report 2014 on South Africa’s education crisis raises serious concerns of threats to national security.
Poor education standards, which lead to unemployment and labour inefficiency, depict the country’s compromised national integrity. To restore this integrity, both the government and civil society need to promote high moral spiritual consensus and prioritise higher education as a national key asset.
The WEF report records South Africa’s quality of primary and higher education at 133rd and 122nd positions, respectively, of 144 countries surveyed. Overall, higher education and training is in 86th position.
In any society, higher education is key. A country’s national security is measured by the government’s ability to produce its own competitive human capital in key sectors. In addition, the state should guard against factors undermining education and other political and socio-economic systems. The state’s effective intervention can strengthen national integrity and ensure national security.
But in South Africa, there are loopholes in assuring quality measures in higher education. Though regulatory bodies such as the Department of Higher Education and Training, the Council on Higher Education and the SA Qualifications Authority provide operational frameworks, validation and accreditation of certificates, they do not have the ability to verify such certificates against professionalism of the holder.
As the government pumps in subsidies to ensure that everyone has access to higher education, it is not visible in monitoring and validating the competence and professionalism of those entrusted with delivering quality education.
As a result, the system faces challenges in producing quality graduates and grooming competitive human capital. For example, a series of reports produced by the Centre for Development and Enterprise towards the end of 2013 found that some teachers could not answer questions on Grade 6 mathematics that they taught.
The Initial Teacher Education Research Project (Iterp), a brainchild of JET Education Services, in collaboration with the Education Deans’ Forum and education departments, identified some challenges in the local education system. It found that “the cause of poor performance… lies not with teachers but with the teacher education system that produced them”.
In its first report produced last month that investigated teacher education and demands of South African schools, Iterp suggests that the quality of professional standards is best evaluated by education experts in institutions of higher learning.
Yet the same report noted poor leadership in some of the country’s institutions.
It becomes difficult to understand how a task of such national importance could be entrusted to institutions that themselves have management challenges. Nonetheless, the education system produces unemployable graduates and uncompetitive human capital. This leads to another threat: escalating unemployment.
The Quarterly Labour Force Survey for the second quarter of this year records unemployment at 25.5 percent, an increase of 0.3 percentage points from the first quarter. If we include discouraged job-seekers, the expanded unemployment rate shoots to 35.6 percent, an increase of 0.5 percentage points from the first quarter.
These figures are reportedly the highest since 2008. In addition to this job quagmire is labour market inefficiency, which the WEF records in 113th position.
While there are contending factors behind South Africa’s labour inefficiency, one of the most visible challenges to economic solidarity and strength is the government’s ineffective intervention. It is the government’s duty to put pressure on business to pursue economic patriotism. That is, practising capitalism with social legitimacy, where respect for the dignity of labour and concern for the public interest are upheld.
With the help of a patriotic society, the government has an obligation to introduce measures to enforce and strengthen quality assurance measures in education and training. Even if it means promoting domestic labour patriotism. South Africa’s welfare depends on the government’s ability to exercise effective control of the education system. Financing the system and employing more educators is not enough.
Contrary to the findings of Iterp, which suggest education experts be located in institutions of higher learning, the progressive civil society to lift education standards would be independent of the government and universities, but working with them.
These are the people who are in a better position to explain the discouraging factors in the country’s academic profession and the factors underlying the education crisis. Given the urgency of this, perhaps the government should consider establishing a commission of inquiry.
It would be interesting for the government to conduct a fact-finding mission as to why some South African academics are quitting the profession before retirement age, but this is a topic for another day.
The starting point should be to investigate the hidden factors undermining the country’s education and training system. In this regard, civil society needs to boost own moral spiritual consensus.
Currently, the South African civil society movement is visibly weakened and divided between the need to uphold the constitution and defend the ruling party’s leadership. Yet the urgent issues threatening national security call for a civil society that promotes a shared national vision, based on patriotism and promotion of the domestic socio-economic development agenda, including labour force protection. Such a civil society would comprise patriotic education experts, policy analysts and former and current academics.
Weakened patriotism and the government’s invisibility in the education system are the basic challenges to blame for the country’s education crisis and growing unemployment.
If we are to deal with these threats to national security and realise our socio-economic development agenda, both the government and civil society have an interventionist role to play in restoring the country’s integrity and building a domestic competitive and skilled human capital.
In addition, the government has to ensure that it employs patriotic, competent and professional educators, who deliver on the mandate of socio-economic development needs, even if that means vetting them. Had the government been in total control of the education system, it would have managed to identify factors undermining the system and introduce necessary measures to enforce quality assurance.
In the interest of national security and sustainable development for future generations, patriotic civil society and the government should work together in resolving the education crisis in the country.
Dr Zoleka Ndayi, a former academic, is a director at ZVN Consulting: Research and Analysis