‘We have an idea where our education system needs to be in ten years’ time, but it’s not going to be easy to get there unless we address systemic issues,’ says Setlogane Manchidi, head of CSI at Investec.
‘But even if our country prioritises the systemic issues in our education sector and we work together to resolve them, it will still take 15 to 20 years before we see a difference. This is why we need to do what we can now to support learners who are going through a weak education system.’
With a strong CSI focus on education and entrepreneurship, Investec funds two
programmes to support current learners in Maths and Science while also addressing a very important systemic issue in education: a lack of adequately qualified teachers in these critical subjects.
‘One of the biggest mistakes South Africa made was to close down teacher training colleges,’ explains Manchidi. ‘As a result, we now have teachers who are not properly trained, or who may be qualified on paper, but lack the practical skills to run a classroom.
‘This has impacted the rate at which we are able to produce adequately trained teachers. To make matters worse, we have an ageing teacher population, and the wrong people often pursue a teaching career. If these issues aren’t addressed, this crisis will become critical.’
Investec partnered with the Department of Basic Education and the Independent Schools Association of Southern Africa (ISASA) to start the Teacher Internship Programme. Unlike universities, where teaching degrees are mostly theoretical and where schools have to wait four years before the teacher enters the system, this programme helps teachers learn on the job.
‘During this programme, we carefully select learners who are passionate about teaching. They study a four-year degree at a distance learning institution like UNISA while placed as an intern at an ISASA school. Ideally, you want them to learn the culture of teaching and learn the content.’
Once their internship is over, these newly qualified teachers are placed in public schools for the duration of their contracts. ‘Our hope is that many of them will stay in those schools and make a difference in the lives of our learners.’
But while Investec and their partners are working to resolve this vital systemic issue, Manchidi acknowledges that a potentially lost generation of learners is currently moving through the educational system. ‘This is why we have to adopt a two-sided approach: we address the systemic issues, but we also support those who are currently in the system.
This is where learner support programmes come in. ‘In addition to the Teacher Internship Programme, Investec runs the Promaths programme that seeks to support learners in Maths and Science by offering tutoring opportunities to pupils in Grades 10 to 12. Around 8000 individuals have matriculated through this programme, and for two consecutive years, 2018 and 2019, Promaths has contributed 5% of the Maths distinctions and 6% of Science distinctions in South Africa.
‘Although this programme does not change the education system, it helps learners interact better with the current system,’ explains Manchidi.
Initiatives like Promaths are valuable and much needed at the moment, and ought to be as widespread as possible. ‘We are going to need these programmes for a number of years to support the current education system, until we have been able to deal with the systemic issues that are keeping our country on the backfoot.
‘Unfortunately, Covid-19 has only increased the systemic issues. Online is where the world is going, and South Africa has major challenges in providing education in the new online format, even more than with the old format.
‘We have to find ways to bridge the gap between the old format, with its inadequacies, and the new format, while also addressing the systemic issues. If we fail to do so, we will continue to be at the bottom of the rankings, especially in Maths and Science.’