Eustace Davie: Can South Africa fix its schooling crisis?

Is there a bigger problem in South Africa than the country’s schooling system? If education could be improved, millions could lift themselves and others in their family networks out of poverty. That, in turn, would generate economic growth and feed a virtuous circle.

Eustace Davie of the Free Market Foundation highlights that education is antiquated the world over, however, in South Africa there are extra challenges. Davie says new laws could help change the shape of the schooling system and South Africa in general.

But, improvements will take time to work through the system and, with no immediate short-term benefits for the powerful ruling clique that has placed self-interest ahead of the national interest, it is hard to imagine schooling taking priority in Parliament in 2017.

Until the political rot is excised and there are strong disincentives to be corrupt, such as jail for the guilty, schooling and other long-term objectives are unlikely to rise to the top of the political agenda. In the meantime another generation faces little prospect of meaningful improvement to their livelihoods. – Jackie Cameron

By Eustace Davie*

Nine million people are unemployed in South Africa. There are many causes for this but a most important one is the devastating consequences of a poorly structured and executed schooling system. Learning environments constructed subject to the demands of government-mandated curricula cannot avoid failing many young people. Instead of beneficiaries, they become “victims”.

In order to apply the schooling laws, officials have to define “schooling” but there is no single definition that can encompass all the possibilities and yet be clear and narrow enough to be policed.

A definition that provides any form of latitude would allow students and their parents to escape the strictures of the curriculum and choose educational alternatives from the wide variety of options that in the absence of the compulsory curriculum would have been available.


Economist EG West pointed out that if the true intention was to ensure that young people become literate and numerate, there would be no need for the elaborate government schooling systems. All that would be necessary would be to oblige parents to ensure that their children at various ages achieve specific levels of numeracy and literacy and have them officially tested in the same way that applies to obtaining a driving licence.

Government schooling curricula are narrow and cannot cover the vast array of potential learning possibilities to which young people could be exposed. What is fundamentally important is knowing how to read and write and have a basic ability to add, subtract, multiply and divide. Besides that, there are thousands of other possible subjects of study to choose from.

Read also: Revealed: Scary truths about maths marks at SA schools – insider expert

One career planning website claims to have a list of 12 000 potential careers. How does the conventional schooling system, not merely in South Africa but worldwide, prepare young people for working in an environment where the possibilities are so numerous? The simple answer is that it does not. What schooling systems do is narrow choices rather than expand them.

Young people are held in bondage while they could be spending the time learning about things that really interest them and be valuable to them throughout their lives. Career guidance advisers at schools tend to suggest a range of career options that is as narrow as school curricula.

Schooling systems throughout the world are antiquated. The imparting of knowledge and skills could be done much more efficiently and satisfactorily.

It could be done in a manner that will have young people working voluntarily and energetically gathering information and learning valuable skills that they can be passionate about, rather than being bound by what one economist described as the “twelve-year sentence without trial” of the imposed curriculum.

Education and training, free of the constricts of the imposed curriculum, would be provided by a proliferation of competing service providers. A vast array of skills would be offered. Some commonly known items would be electronics, plumbing, electrical, bricklaying, carpentry, painting, tiling, and gardening. There are a wide range of possibilities in respect of each potential activity.


Universities and the future go up in smoke. More magic at

Then there are the various aspects of music and art in all their forms. All the different varieties of farming. All the forms of sport. The huge range of skills in the field of electronics. Experts in all the various fields, including some of the more obscure skills, would be offering to teach what they know. The possibilities are almost endless and the availability of information is increasing exponentially and at rapidly reducing cost.

Consider the opportunities that would be available to the nine million currently unemployed people if they had some of the skills mentioned above. Opening up to young people the potential fields of learning related to the acquisition of valuable skills and knowledge would ensure that South Africa would not have the mass unemployment that now afflicts the country.

Such dramatic changes would take time to work their way through the economy but changes could be made to the laws that would allow the transformation of the learning process to get underway.

* Author Eustace Davie is a director of the Free Market Foundation (FMF). The views expressed in the article are the author’s and are not necessarily shared by the members of the Free Market Foundation.

** The FMF is an independent, non-profit, public benefit organisation, created in 1975 by pro-free market business and civil society national bodies to work for a non-racial, free and prosperous South Africa.

As a policy organisation it promotes sound economic policies and the principles of good law. As a think tank it seeks and puts forward solutions to some of the country’s most pressing problems: unemployment, poverty, growth, education, health care, electricity supply, and more.

The FMF was instrumental in the post-apartheid negotiations and directly influenced the Constitutional Commission to include the property rights clause: a critical cornerstone of economic freedom.

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