Every January the Department of Basic Education publishes matric results for the prior year, with the main focus on the overall pass rate. For 2019 the pass rate was a record 81.3%. But this is highly misleading, as only half of the million kids who had entered the schooling system 12 years ago even got to write Matric exams. This means the true pass rate is actually 40.7%.
It gets worse if one digs deeper. A mere 7.7% of the original million kids ended up passing mathematics in matric, when the hurdle is a 40% pass mark.
Let that sink in: only one in 13 kids that enter the schooling system will pass matric maths at 40%. Meanwhile Japan and China set the bar to pass maths at a much higher 60%.
So while we produce 77 000 matriculants who pass maths at 40%, China produces a staggering 4.3 million engineers a year. With maths as an important gateway subject for any hard science, it’s not just that we are underperforming, it’s that we risk becoming irrelevant.
I wish I could stop there, but it gets worse. In a decade the world will look very different (and overall much better) as waves of technological advancements reinforce one another. But we need the hard scientific skills to take advantage of these megatrends or we will be relegated to mere consumers.
Throughout the 2020s, more and more Artificial Intelligence (AI) algorithms and machine learning tools will become open source. This will allow any individual with a data connection to augment their cognitive and problem-solving capacity.
Every industry from healthcare, manufacturing, retailing, legal and finance will be impacted. But to harness Artificial Intelligence we need to first overcome human ignorance. And our entire education system is underperforming when it comes to hard skills, while neglecting the new competencies needed.
More than half the children now entering school will be expected to work in jobs that don’t exist. Apart from core skills like reading, writing, mathematics and science, students will need skills like critical thinking, creativity and problem-solving to contribute in their future jobs or start-ups.
As parents, my wife and I try and promote curiousity, intitiative and entrepreneurial thinking in our daughters, as these aren’t taught or measured in the classroom.
For myself I have simply committed to lifelong learning because many of the things I learned at university are no longer relevant or true. Our real challenge is learning to learn and maybe even more importantly, learning to unlearn some old ideas.
I would encourage matriculants to use many of the free online courses available to learn to code or to learn another international language. Also try your hand at any form of small business while you study or work, just to learn the basics about adding value and how to turn a profit. You have so little to lose by taking risks at this stage of your life and so much to gain by experimenting.
The world is changing faster and faster. Don’t get left behind by clinging to old models of education.
* Jordaan is a backer of 25 ventures like 4G/5G telco rain, fintech Bank Zero and software apprenticeship CodeX. He is also a wine amateur and lazy mountainbiker. Views expressed are his own.