Johannesburg - Despite the critical role that accountants provide towards the economy, the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) has been blamed for pupils not choosing the subject in Gauteng.
This week, Gauteng Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi wrote on Twitter during the announcement of the 2019 National Senior Certificate results that in the province, accounting could potentially come to an end in schools.
“In 2008, we had 35139 learners taking accounting but in 2019 this number dropped badly to 14768 learners,” he tweeted. “Almost half of our learners are no longer willing to do accounting. We have a serious problem here.”
The current decline comes despite experts insisting that local chartered accountants are highly regarded and sought after internationally.
The industry has the potential to grow and create sustainable and meaningful employment, particularly in South Africa with its alarming rates of unemployment, they believe.
Professor Benjamin Marx, head of the department of accountancy at the University of Johannesburg, said the rise of new technologies should not scare pupils from taking the subject in high school and from exploring it further as a career option.
“The perception created by the 4IR that accountants will become obsolete or be replaced by robots is very far from the truth,” Mark said.
Instead, this new technological phase would change the roles accountants played, he said.
“Accountants of the future will be the managers of information produced by the 4IR and will be able to increase the value thereof immensely.”
His sentiments were echoed by the SA Institute of Chartered Accountants (Saica) which conceded that the technological uprising would bring changes but this could be counteracted by a change in teaching methods.
“The accounting profession will face significant changes in the next decade and this means that the teaching of accounting, whether at secondary or tertiary level, needs to respond to the changes,” Chantyl Mulder, nation building executive director, said.
She listed the evolution of smart and digital technology, globalisation, new forms of regulation and the growing pressures and expectations around businesses’ contribution to social and environmental considerations, as some of the changes brought by the 4IR.
“Only in changing the curriculum to include this can we ensure accounting, as a school subject, will remain relevant and capable of meeting the needs of the 21st century economy.”
Mulder reiterated that according to research conducted around the world, accountants remained one of the world’s most in demand professions in both developed and developing countries, and for this reason a total overhaul of accounting as a school subject needed to be conducted.
“Saica, together with its academic partners, continues to engage with the Department of Basic Education to find ways to redesign the accounting curriculum so as to bring it up to speed with the true needs of business, teach it in a manner that integrates accounting principles with subjects like economics and entrepreneurship and ensure that learners take the subject at high school develop with the critical skills they need to work in the 21st century.”
Marx agreed and added that updating the accounting school syllabus would not only enable future accountants the opportunity to cope and compete in the modern world, but would also help them in their personal capacity.
“Having a basic accounting knowledge should be a prerequisite for any scholar, as it will stand them in good stead in their future work and personal endeavours.”
A venture into the accountancy industry is the foundation for highly professional qualifications such as chartered accountancy and chartered management accountancy, both highly sought-after locally and internationally.
Experts argue that accountants are also best placed to provide solutions that will enable change towards sustainability, according to the UN’s sustainable development goals and is the base for a successful business.
Yet an increasing number of learners are not choosing it as a subject. While the Fourth Industrial Revolution has been blamed as one of the factors contributing towards its decline, the SA Institute of Chartered Accountants’ nation building executive director Chantyl Mulder said the subject was not a prerequisite in studying towards an accountancy qualification at university.
“Universities require learners to obtain 60% or more in maths and English as these gateway subjects develop key critical thinking and problem-solving skills required for a degree.”
Meanwhile, Professor Benjamin Mark of the department of accountancy at the University of Johannesburg said accountants were often considered “boring. Accountants ensure that businesses are run effectively and that the economy is stimulated and can grow.”