On February 7, 2013, the Yale School of Management hosted Liz Berry Gips, SOM class of 1989, for a discussion on education, particularly the current state of the education system in South Africa. Liz was in New Haven to celebrate her husband Don Gips, also an alumnus from the class of 1989, becoming a Donaldson Fellow. Don was the United States Ambassador to South Africa from 2009 to 2013; while Liz lived there she became heavily involved in efforts to improve the South African education system.
The major problem in South African education is quality, not quantity. 98% of children are in school, so access is not an issue. However, access does not necessarily lead to learning. The major underlying issues preventing schools from succeeding in effectively educating the next generation are inadequately trained teachers and the complex politics of the country.
Because the apartheid system, which was replaced in 1994, designed Bantu education to keep Blacks poorly educated, most teachers did not get a good primary or secondary education themselves. Teachers historically learned education science at specialized colleges of education. Post-apartheid, teacher training was integrated into regular universities in order to improve the curriculum and make teaching more prestigious – a model which has so far met with only limited success.
Unions are very powerful in South Africa, especially in terms of their political control. USAID has a long history of funding education in the country, but that has meant working with the Ministry of Education, which is somewhat beholden to the unions. While the Ministry sets overall educational policy, funding for education comes from the provincial governments, so there can be conflicts between what should get funded and what actually does. In order to expose South Africa’s education leadership to other models and to stimulate cross-learning, Liz brought the Minister of Education, the head of the Teacher’s Union and some NGO leaders to Washington, DC, where they met with the education team at McKinsey, KIPP charter schools, the Chancellor of DC Public Schools, and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.
Despite several complex problems, Liz identified several reasons for hope: low-fee schools, job training, and technology. Low-fee schools are private schools for the poor in townships and rural areas that offer better quality education at a minimal cost. They operate with almost no government funding, with fees covering costs. One model, based on Kenya’s Bridge International Academies, has been especially effective. One underlying reason for South Africa’s high unemployment rate is a lack of sufficiently qualified job applicants. Corporations are therefore starting to offer more job training. Hopefully talks underway about corporate coalitions for job training will soon bear fruit. Finally, there has been an increased growth in online learning opportunities. Liz thinks technological advancements in education have the potential to improve opportunities in leaps and bounds, especially for teacher training. Organizations have been trying to leverage mobile phones for education, although there are no large-scale efforts yet. These trends hold the promise to help South Africa’s next generation get the education necessary to continue the country’s ongoing social and economic growth post-apartheid.