SABC COO Hlaudi Motsoeneng. The selection system of the SABC board must be placed in the hands of an independent commission, says the writer. File photo: Motshwari Mofokeng

It is nonsense to believe that there are circumstances in which education is unnecessary, says Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya.

Pretoria - It is a sad indictment on our country that we even have to write a column about it. But here we are again, having to state what ought to have been trite: education is important.

I am saying this because I have continued hearing disturbing views since it was reported that the SABC’s acting chief operating officer, Hlaudi Motsoeneng, did not graduate from high school.

For some, the question has been whether he was effective at his job despite his educational shortcomings.

According to this view, if he was effective then everything else is pointless; and more disturbingly, it is further evidence that education is overrated.

This column is not about whether Motsoeneng is good at his job or what should happen now that the public protector has released her findings.

It is about being on guard to ensure that we do not allow anything to make us believe the nonsense that there are circumstances in which education is unnecessary.

As far as I am concerned, no such circumstances exist.

Motsoeneng is not the first person to be used as the poster-boy of why education is not all it is hailed to be.

President Jacob Zuma is often cited as proof of how one can get to the top without a lack of education being a handicap.

It is also pointed out that, despite having no formal education, it was Zuma who went on to head the ANC’s intelligence services in exile and was notably one of the first leaders ANC president Oliver Tambo sent back to South Africa to prepare the ground for a negotiated political settlement.

Harvard dropout Bill Gates, who founded Microsoft and is one of the world’s wealthiest men, and who, through his foundation, has contributed billions to charitable causes, is often singled out as evidence of the futility of education.

Debating whether education is more important than natural talent is like debating which, between breathing in or breathing out, is more important.

Chances are that anyone who is great at what they do without having had the privilege of an education could probably have been even better with it.

Accepting, for the purpose of the present, that Motsoeneg and Zuma are great and effective at their jobs despite their lack of schooling, the reality of the matter is that those not adequately trained for what they do generally perform worse than those with training.

Wherever an untrained person is excellent in a field that generally requires training, such a person is an exception that proves the rule.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that it would be extremely foolish of anyone to pick the black swans who made it without education and pin their future hopes on achieving the same.

Everyday life is generally harsher on those without education than it is on those who have some schooling.

For every person who has made a great success of his life without a decent education, there are a million who realise that their dire circumstances are due to their education shortfall.

Those who point to the likes of Gates fail to appreciate the number of hours that he, as a young man, put into teaching himself about computers.

Gates compensated for his lack of lecture hall time by applying himself harder than his peers who had degrees.

His story is as true in South Africa as it is anywhere else.

One did not need to read the recent statistician-general’s report, which found that the chances of finding employment were as good as non-existent for those without at least matric, toi know this.

These days, even a junior degree in the “wrong” field can be as useless as not having an education at all.

That there was even a debate about whether qualifications matter means that as a country we are at risk of losing our common-sense compass.

We are heading towards a slippery slope where the ends justify the means.

Education is not a chore that must be suffered.

It is an enabling tool that helps us to comprehend our spaces better, and it creates value and meaning for us and ours.

We dare not miss the trees for the woods and forget that the purpose of education is not to acquire a certificate or a job thereafter, but to appreciation the purpose of rigour, research and disciplined thinking.

It is an enabler that makes us approach old challenges with new eyes and renewed confidence.

In an ever-changing world in which, sometimes, what is taught in the second year of varsity has been overtaken by new knowledge by the time a person graduates, we just cannot afford to rely on talent alone.

Continuous education must not only be regarded as virtuous, but as essential to a good life as eating healthily or exercising regularly.

It must be a way of life.

* Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya is executive editor of the Pretoria News

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