Investec, in partnership with YES (Youth Employment Service) and ORT SA Cape invested in Unathi Thembani, who until a few years ago, was unemployed and battling to support her daughter. She's now a fully qualified Grade R teacher and a role model for other single mothers in her community.
SA's shockingly low ROI on education spending
We are the biggest underperformer in terms of educational outcomes per capita relative to GDP among low and middle-income countries. Poor education standards stop school leavers from securing gainful employment while poor educational outcomes contribute to poor economic growth, which exacerbates unemployment, poverty and inequality.
The latest Progress in International Reading Literacy Study revealed that 81% of Grade 4 pupils in SA can't read for meaning.
A report compiled by the Centre for Risk Analysis for the Institute of Race Relations, shows that almost 20% of government spending for the 2022/23 budget will go towards education, which equates to R429.7 billion – higher than any other portfolio.
Despite this considerable investment, learning outcomes in South Africa are worse than Kenya, Tanzania and neighbouring Eswatini, states the CDE.
Tragically, previously disadvantaged communities disproportionately suffer from poor schooling, which serves to perpetuate the cycle of poverty and inequality.
Poor resource deployment
Clearly, SA's education crisis does not stem from a lack of financial resources. The government needs to deploy its budget more effectively. Key areas include rooting out corruption and investing to address glaring infrastructure deficits.
But arguably, transforming education begins with teaching teachers.
A lack of quality teachers contributes immensely to the country's poor educational outcomes. The shortage stems from poor training, a lack of appropriate qualifications among public school teachers, and a worsening exodus of skills.
The CDE report highlights a worrying lack of capabilities as “four out of five teachers in public schools lack the content knowledge and pedagogical skills to teach their subjects”. The skills shortage is most acute in specialist subjects such as maths, science, technology and African languages.
The educator brain drain
The other issue is the teacher brain drain as teachers either switch professions or leave the country for better pay and working conditions. A 2020 study by the University of Pretoria found that more than 10,400 South African teachers had emigrated to the UK.
Worryingly, SA is not graduating a sufficient number of teachers to keep up with this attrition rate. According to School-Days, roughly 15,000 new teachers currently graduate each year, which is below the 25,000 needed annually to maintain an effective teacher-to-pupil ratio.
To address these issues, the CDE recommends improving teacher performance “by introducing higher teacher training standards, more effective support for existing teachers and the urgent recruitment of skilled foreign teachers in areas of shortage”.
Private sector invests for impact
Faced with these challenges, private-public partnerships (PPPs) could be the basis of a route out of SA’s education quagmire with initiatives like the partnership between Investec, Youth Employment Service (YES) and ORT SA Cape.
Investec is passionate about education. We believe it's the key to reducing inequality, which is something very close to our hearts because our purpose is to create enduring worth.
In 2018 Investec signed up to YES, which is a business-led initiative supported by government and labour to impact youth unemployment in South Africa. Then two years ago, Investec combined their YES involvement with its learnership strategy. “What this does is allow interns who show a real interest and aptitude during their one-year internship, to get formal qualifications. So, interns with a matric have the opportunity to get a NQF4 and hopefully go on to be permanently employment,” explains Arnold. Since enrolling with YES, Investec has helped over 3,000 youth gain meaningful employment across numerous sectors, and 60% of those interns are now employed.
“We choose sectors with the highest absorption capacity to increase the chances that youth secure permanent jobs, such as the teaching, artisan and tourism sectors,” says Arnold.
Partnering to teach teachers
Investec first partnered with ORT SA Cape in 2019. ORT SA Cape is a non-profit organisation based in the Western Cape that trains and supports teachers in disadvantaged communities.
Their programmes include an 18-month early childhood development (ECD) learnership for young people who want to pursue teaching as a career and YES internships. This is a 12-month work experience programme mainly as teaching assistants in pre-schools and primary schools across the Western Cape.
“We take young people on a year-long work experience programme and identify those with a passion for teaching, but don't have the means to access tertiary education, then give them the opportunity to do the ECD leanership,” explains ORT SA Cape CEO, Bev Da Costa.
By the end of their qualification, they also have three years of work experience, which makes them more employable. But I think the mentorship we offer makes the biggest difference.”
Delivering real-world impact
Unathi Thembani, a 31-year-old mother from Imizamo Yethu in Hout Bay, was one of the first interns to graduate from the ORT SA Cape internship programme thanks to the support from Investec.
“I used to work as a pastry chef but lost my job in 2018. I started an internship in 2019 thanks to funding from Investec.”
Unathi completed a year-long course as an assistant teacher and based on her promise, was selected for the 18-month ECD course, gaining three years of experience as an assistant teacher in the process. After completing her practicals at Hangberg Pre-Primary School, which is located close to Imizamo Yethu in the Hout Bay Harbour, Unathi now works at the school as a permanent teacher.
“Having a permanent job and a salary helps me support my child and family. I am also able to rent a place for us, and I'm paying fees and transport for my child to attend school.”
She is also helping kids in her community attend school from an earlier age, which is vital for early development and better longer-term educational outcomes.
“Most of the children from Imizamo Yethu that now attend Hangberg Pre-Primary do so because of my efforts.”
Unathi sees her role as more than just a teacher; she also feels like a mother to the kids from her community because many do not have a parent in their lives. “Many are being neglected or ignored, but I am here for them as a mother figure.” Unathi was recently promoted to Grade R teacher, which she says makes her feel proud.
I feel like teaching is my calling, and I feel like my hard work is being recognised.
Growing teachers, growing jobs, growing SA
“ORT SA Cape is closely aligned to our goals. They have been fantastic in terms of what they've done as a partner, and the results show,” continues Arnold. “They achieve amazing absorption rates, with many interns studying further or getting jobs in the schools where they are placed.”
With social development, the focus is often on throughputs and absorption targets, which are important, but individual success stories like Unathi's stand out, says Da Costa.
“The real impact is about more than numbers. It's how we up-skill young people and give them confidence so they can find their passion, gain hope, uplift their communities, and improve their lives. That makes me most proud.”
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