LAST WEEK, I wrote about Roland Fryer, a man who became a professor of economics at Harvard University at the age of 30. He’s a figure young people should look up to. It’s his decision to pursue education at a young age that made him what he is today.

After reading and writing about Roland Fryer’s life, I couldn’t stop thinking how important education is to uplifting the lives of the less-fortunate and for the development of our society. It is, at least in my thinking, the only way we can defeat poverty over the long-term.

I have written about the importance of education before; my views may have changed, but the feeling is still the same – that it’s the most critical tool that can steer South Africa in the right direction. But we can only head in the right direction if we people choose to do so. It’s not a desperate bureaucrat sitting in Union Buildings who will positively alter South Africa’s education – it’s you and me.

We now live in a truly global and borderless world. International trade and politics require us to be skilled and able to solve business problems we encounter in our daily lives.

In South Africa, abject poverty strikes those without formal education. According to Statistics South Africa last year, “In 2011, two-thirds of those who had no education were living in poverty. This decreased to 60% for those who had some primary, and 55% for those who had completed primary school.

The level dropped to 44% for those who had some secondary schooling, and dropped even further to 23, 6% for those who had completed matric. Only 1 in 20 people who had some form of higher education were living in poverty in 2011.” We do not how true these statistics are; but judging by what I see when I travel around Johannesburg, they are telling.

This data shows that it’s those with least education who endure poverty. That’s always been my thinking too. It’s hard to find a person with at least a secondary school education begging at the streets. Very hard.

There are some though, who think having tertiary education is not that important, because you may have your qualifications and still be unemployed – I disagree with them.

Education gives you the skills to compete in the labor market – which is what most uneducated people do not have. It’s not only about finding employment, it’s about being able to read, write and reason.

These very basic skills will help enhance your innovation skills and equip you with the necessary tools that could be of assistance should you wish to be an entrepreneur. People with qualifications have much better chances of finding employment than those without.

The other reason I believe education is the key is because I’m a believer in individual freedom, and in my reading of history, I find that without education, it’s easy to be exploited and repressed. You become disempowered; politicians take advantage of you and abuse your freedom anyway they like.

Dr. Ben S. Carson, who was a renowned neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins Hospital for 40 years, once said, “Compulsory education was much slower to reach the southern states, and education of slaves was forbidden. The very fact that powerful men in the South went to great lengths to prevent slaves from gaining an education makes it clear that they fully understood how empowering education can be. This fact alone should encourage anyone who is poor, weak, and/or powerless to direct all their energy toward obtaining an education.”

The significance of education is acknowledged and discussed almost everywhere around the globe. In countries like India, education is the only helicopter to escape abject poverty. But perhaps the most important thing we have to discuss and take action upon is “how” we educate our youth.

My colleague, Martin van Staden, who is the Local Coordinator at African Students for Liberty South Africa, is correct when he says “One mustn’t confuse education with being put through 12 years of Hell on Earth. If South Africa, the world even, needs “transformation”, it should be the way we go about educating our youth.” I agree with him wholeheartedly.

I’d argue that what we South Africans offer to young people isn’t something that can enable them to efficiently compete in the market; at least the data suggest so. About 20% of South Africa’s expenditure goes to education – this is what we spend most of money on. Yet the outcomes are disappointing. We rank at the bottom in mathematics, science and reading. Even countries like Kenya and Zimbabwe do better than us, according to Africa Check.

It’s very true that our public education faces a crisis. And one can tell by the fact that many South Africans are rejecting it. Last year, our economist at Free Market Foundation, Loane Sharpe, wrote:

“Thankfully, the black middle class is voting with its feet. Last year, enrolments at low-fee private schools which employ retired teachers and charge around R350 per pupil per month shot up by 27 percent whereas government school enrolments fell by 6 percent. Government school closures abound, even as low-fee private schools are springing up everywhere.”

It’s not only in South Africa that people are rejecting public education; even in very poor countries like Pakistan and India, parents are spending every little they have to send their children to private schools. In his article published by Foreign Policy, Charles Kenny, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development writes:

“In India, as many as two-thirds of urban kids and 28 percent of rural children attend private school. The median per-person income is about $565 per year, and the poorer districts and states have more rural private schools than the richer ones. In Pakistan, roughly one-third of children attend private primary school. Parents there spend about 10 cents a day on private education — sure, that’s less than one-thousandth of what it costs to attend Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, but it’s a lot of money in a country where more than half the population subsists on less than $2 a day.”

One of my friends once said that the reason why countries like Germany and France recovered speedily after the destruction caused by the Second World War is because their populations were educated. I don’t know if he’s correct; I still have to do some research to prove him wrong.

Education coupled with libertarian economic policies are key to addressing the socioeconomic problems we face. My opinion is that we need to stop thinking that to strengthen our education we should spend more money.

There are serious changes we need to do. These changes should include encouraging citizens to invest in private education so that more and more of our children can have an opportunity to get decent education; instead of losing out on two weeks of school work just because members of the South African Democratic Teachers Union are on strike.

Roland Fryer’s research in the United States shows that it’s not only about providing education to the youth, it’s also about, encouraging young people to work harder. That’s something we need to work on as South Africans. We need to encourage kids to be passionate about their education, and incentivize them so they work harder.

Because it is clear that the people who can make a huge positive impact on education is “we the people”. It is not bureaucrats who put their political interests first than the education of our youth.



 

Phumlani M. UMajozi is a Professional Business Analyst, a Policy Analyst at Independent Entrepreneurship Group, and Youth Coordinator at Free Market Foundation South Africa.