Education is not only about the children

Opposition parties regularly get mileage out of attacking South Africa’s education system.

Some say only one in 100 entering Grade 0 will graduate with a university degree. Then they shout that the ANC should stop blaming today’s problems on the apartheid era.

The national education budget is R247bn of the total budget of R1.2-trillion for 2014-15. That is more than R1bn per academic day.

Many complain that the standard of education has dropped. How can one compare the education syllabus today with that of 20 years ago, let alone that pupil numbers have more than doubled?

Education starts from birth, not Grade 0. Like most animals, children initially learn by following their parents’ example. So a privileged child has an overwhelming advantage over a child of a parent neglected in the apartheid era. Even if both receive the same education from Grade 0, one must wonder whether the underprivileged child will ever catch up, no matter how much is spent.

Then add access to technology. Imagine the advantage available to a child growing up with an iPad compared with one who may occasionally watch TV2.

The legacy of apartheid remains relevant. The lost generations are still with us, but as parents. Perhaps the problem is that South Africa has devoted such huge financial resources to children that their parents are neglected today.

Recently, I have been lecturing on the new employment tax incentive and the tax amendments to bursary schemes for lower-level workers and their families. Sadly, employers have expressed little interest in either initiative.

Perhaps my lectures miss the plot. Tax incentives for employment and education are not directed at improving the shareholders’ bottom line. They exist to facilitate first-job and continued education opportunities. They are an integral link to the education function because they hopefully uplift parents to provide a better example for children.

If the education system is failing, we are all to blame. The department cannot churn out graduates without an effort by parents and employers. Education truly is a public-private initiative.

Originally published in the Sunday Times: Money & Careers Tax Talk column.


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