by Garreth Bloor

Education Dilemma

Solving the Problem


South Africa has one of the highest rates of youth unemployment in the world, with more than three million – or half the number of young black South Africans aged between 15 and 24 – out of work. It is a structural reality that masks a very personal anguish for millions of our country’s youth, according to Consumer Insight Agency (CIA). 

CIA’s latest research offers important insights for companies seeking to ease the dire challenge of education in South Africa, which currently ranks lower than many of its peers in the world’s emerging markets.
Drawing on qualitative, video-based interview techniques, South African youth across the country were interviewed in an attempt to understand their experiences and views on education and their future prospects.

What CIA heard was that school-leavers believe further education, work experience and skills development are key factors in gaining employment. And when these are not forthcoming, often because of financial constraints, many job seekers settle into an inertia of the most remarkable complacency.

“It is a strategy that most school-leavers acknowledge will not work,” says CIA director, Craig Irving. “Yet, aside from door-to-door canvassing and ‘networking’ among friends and family (those who have computer access send CVs), it’s the only strategy they know.”

Finding ways to boost work-seeking tactics therefore should be a priority for policy-makers and non-governmental organisations working in this sphere, he says, noting that the current strategies employed by young people to help improve their prospects for job-readiness are usually limited to circulating CVs to prospective employers identified in community newspapers.

“Young, school-leaving matriculants need to know – and need their parents to understand – that these free programmes are useful. While they may not immediately earn an income, they will lead to better prospects,” Irving tells Ubuntu.

One private sector success story backing education is Live magazine. Gavin Weale, who is a Shuttleworth Fellow and runs the magazine, explains that Live is about “delivering social benefit for contributors and readers”. The venture offers short-term internships to young graduates and unemployed youth, thereby helping them gain crucial work experience and employability skills. But it also measures its social impact by the extent to which the content influences and helps its readers – ensuring a substantive component that can track success. 

“We have talked a lot about how our magazine can influence, inform and inspire readers as well as interns, in their own quest for a brighter future,” says Weale.

“If nothing else, these programmes will help young people meet with mentors and share in creative, entrepreneurial opportunities that will help nurture their dreams, build self-belief and add to self-worth.”

Businesses have funded private research into education solutions. Providing quality education to sustain the human resource needs of a developing country remains one of South Africa’s greatest challenges, according to the Centre for Development and Enterprise (CDE) based in Johannesburg. 

Drawing on the organisation’s experience in analysing complex national policies and large programmes of delivery, the CDE – supported by a number of businesses – has been exploring the sound foundations on which an improved educational programme can be built, contributing significantly to the national policy debate by using its funds to incorporate the world’s best programmes with the macro-environment of South Africa’s educational context. 


With education a state mandate, many do support existing schools by offering direct assistance in line with the Department of Education’s compliance regulations. 

However, with many young South Africans unable to complete school or passing Matric without a belief that there are job prospects, interventions in the form of post-school programmes may serve as an area in which South African firms can ensure their interventions are manageable, while providing greater flexibility than is the case when working through the schools themselves.

It’s the right thing to do

“This is not just about doing something good for the community; it makes business sense by providing job applicants with demonstrable skills in sorely needed areas of technology,” argues South Africa – The Good News, in reference to the GROW Academy model. “Most noticeably, the initiative is getting the school-leavers excited about their future. Recognising that they can bring a valuable skill to the job market helps them pursue a life beyond the drug and gang culture that so easily ensnares youth in their communities.”

While hard skills are often a core focus in a country with maths and science results below many international averages, major firms such as Absa have looked to the arts as a vehicle for skills development. 

Overall, as CIA’s Irving appears to point out during discussion with Ubuntu, there is a softer but no less crucial side to the role of education initiatives that matter greatly to the wider socio-economic context in which millions of young people struggle to find tangible options for their future. 

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Issue 23


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