The Importance of Education in the Private Sector in South Africa
The need for private schooling lies in the troubled past of South Africa’s education system
South Africa’s constitution enshrines the right to a basic education. One of the worst ideas that the previous government implemented was Bantu education. Bantu education severely undermined the development of the vast majority of our population. Its negative effects will be felt in the years, or even decades, to come. Bantu education decided how well educated a person could be on the basis of a person’s skin colour. It only prepared children for menial jobs. This is obviously wrong. Our country’s democratic constitution aimed to give every child the right to a good education.
In 1994 the educational standard for the minority of learners was very good. The dream was for all the students in this nation to receive this standard of education. Quality public education was going to be offered to all the children of South Africa. Regardless of race, gender or disabilities, every child would be a student in a world-class education programme. The hope was to see children educated to compete on the global stage. They would receive the education previously only offered to the ruling minority.
Public schooling since 1994 highlights the importance of education in the private sector
The sad truth is this dream remains a dream. This is despite government spending about R200 – R235 billion on basic education per year (these figures are the 2016 figures). This is roughly 15% of the country’s total budget. Putting this into perspective, this is a higher percentage than that spent by the United States of America and the United Kingdom on education. With about 11.2 million children of school going age, this comes to roughly R21000 per child, per year.
South Africa is not producing children who are employable in the local economy. It is even worse when considering the global market. A 2016 report found that 78% of our grade four students couldn’t read for meaning. Reading for meaning is being able to recognise information that is explicitly stated in a written text. It is being able to make “straightforward inferences about events and reasons for actions” in a passage. We need to look at this on an international level. Looking at America’s grade fours only 4% couldn’t understand what they read. England’s figures were even better, at 3%.
It goes without saying that being unable to read has serious ramifications for being able to function in a modern society.
Under half of all the grade ones that started school this year will complete matric. (The figure might even be as low at 34.7%.) This is based on the current data and trends over the last two decades. We can also see that learners have been ill-prepared to succeed in school. About 20% of South African pupils in grades 9, 10 and 11 pupils are repeating their school years.
At first glance, 2018 figures might be more encouraging. 72.5% of accounting students passed, while 73.3% passed economics and 58% passed mathematics. But a 30% mark was all that was required to pass in these subjects. If the pass rate was a 40% mark, there is a significant drop in the figures. Then only 48.6% would have passed accounting, 44.8% economics, and 37.1% maths.
These and other statistics all show that there is an urgent need for quality education in our country. More and more parents are looking to the private sector to meet their children’s educational needs.
How did we get here?
It is beyond the scope of this article to trace all the factors that have led us to this point. One point worth mentioning is the quality of the training many of today’s teachers have received. Many of the teachers of the last 25 years were themselves products of the Bantu education system. They themselves lack the skills needed to produce the students necessary to compete in the market place.
The benefits of education in the private sector
South Africa needs a robust education system. This is going to take a political will that is difficult to envision. Both government and private sector entities must continue to work towards the goal of quality education for all of our children.
But parents also cannot wait for an entire system to be overhauled. Children need to be educated today. It’s in this scenario that education in the private sector has blossomed and bloomed.
Benefits for the government
There are many benefits of private sector education. There is even a benefit to government whenever a private school is opened. There are also on-going benefits for the local and national government.
Every new private sector school campus saves the government at least R120 million in infrastructure spending. (Each can save the government as much as R200 million.) Each individual private school saves the government between R20 and R40 million in annual running costs.
Benefits of education in the private sector for the students
There are very high-performing government schools. But they are unfortunately the exception, not the rule. Where a student lives determines which schools they can attend. If the local school is not a good one, the pupil has very limited options.
In the private sector, these restrictions are not in place. A student isn’t restricted to schooling in the suburb that they reside. A private school can take any student that wishes to attend, if that student complies with the school’s selection criteria.
One of the challenges in public sector schooling is that teacher unions have stood in the way of reforms. These would bring better standards of education to the learners. Measures to ensure results and accountability of teachers have been resisted. Suggested inspections, for example, have been opposed. This means that underperforming teachers have continued to teach without facing consequences. This translates into underperforming and even failing schools continuing to underperform and fail without facing any penalties.
This isn’t the case in the private sector. If a private school isn’t performing, parents will no longer send their children to that school. If a teacher at a private school doesn’t maintain the expected standard, that teacher will not continue to work at that private school. This is one of the reasons that high performing private schools continue to maintain high standards, and private schools that don’t deliver such results don’t last.
This has also meant that the calibre of teachers is often better in the private sector. There are no doubt highly skilled teachers at government schools. However, pupils are more likely to benefit from better teaching at a private school.
Schools in the private sector also often have smaller classes. This means that students can expect more individualised attention from high-quality educators. This minimises the chances of falling through the cracks in an overcrowded classroom. If there is a difficult section of work, help is more readily available at a private school.
Long-term benefits of schooling in the private sector
Simply educating our children to a basic skill level could see an increase in the country’s GDP of 295% by 2095. This translates into R200-trillion (that is R200 followed by twelve zeroes) within 80 years. At this moment in time, education from the private sector is poised to deliver these results, compared to government education.