MAILBOX: “Education does not begin Grade 1; it begins at birth”
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MAILBOX: “Education does not begin Grade 1; it begins at birth”

It’s no surprise to anybody that South Africa suffers from abysmal unemployment and inferior basic education. Not too long ago, the IRR’s Frans Cronje shared some chilling statistics on BizNews.com. Youth unemployment aside (which currently sits near 75%) many schools aren’t preparing SA’s youth for a beneficial future. Cronje noted that just four in 100 kids today will pass maths in high school with a grade of 50% or higher. Below, BizNews community member John Stegmann weighs in on the education debate. Referring to various arguments (which say education is the future and that a well-educated workforce must start at Grade 1) Stegmann notes that both arguments share a common thread – government should do something about it. Below, our community member asks, “Why not do it ourselves? My answer is that society is to blame for not taking care of everyone and not understanding that education does not begin Grade 1; it begins at birth.”  

By John Stegmann

I’ve been fascinated by the discussion on education over the past few days. Many will agree with Tony Marron ‘the future is education’ and that government should do something about it; that’s been the thinking for decades – but not so many go with his suggested solution.  

Stuart Pennington adds that a well-educated workforce must start at Grade 1, and cites the alarming drop-out rates, concluding that government must have a plan that starts when children enter school (and not when they leave school).  

That looked better until Marius Swart pointed out that we understand what needs to be done and where the weaknesses are, but their solutions revolve around government.

So, why not do it ourselves?  

I came to that conclusion two years ago. My answer, Marius, is that society is to blame for not taking care of everyone and not understanding that education does not begin Grade 1; it begins at birth.  

Education is undertaken by government, private enterprise, parents and  philanthropists. Economists have won Nobel Prizes for pointing out that investing in early childhood shows the highest return. We know that those most in need of help are children born into poor homes, and therefore that is where investment is most needed. But the ‘returns’ go to the children, their parents and community – not to banks or venture capitalists. Selling to a market that can’t pay does not appeal to the business community.  

The upshot is that by neglecting the relatively low cost of early education we forfeit the potential in millions of newborn children and end up supporting them with grants, subsidies and pensions for most of their adult lives. Like neglecting the environment, neglect over decades has created this appalling misery.  

Marius, I am another entrepreneur with a novel solution. With luck we’re about to enter this space hoping make a tangible difference in the next decade or so as children stay longer in school and do well at both literacy and maths.  

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