The Elephant in the Room

It is no secret. South Africa’s education system is simply not working.

We are failing to educate our children so miserably that The Department of Basic Education has now proposed Grade 7, 8 and 9 learners only have to achieve 20% to “pass” maths. This is a great idea if we want to keep pupils moving through the system and spiralling educational costs down, but a terrible idea if we want those same children to ever have the chance to compete for jobs and income in the real, globalised world.

Perhaps it is time to stop sweeping our problems under the proverbial rug of lowered standards and start considering an entirely new approach to education. Perhaps our failure to compete with global educational norms is, in fact, an opportunity in disguise to rethink what eduction really is and why we do it at all.

The purpose of eduction, at its core, is to teach young people to become self-sufficient, contributing members of society. In other words, to equip our future generations with the skills, knowledge and abilities to either find or create work and become financially independent human beings.

With South Africa’s youth unemployment rate sitting at 38,6%, our schools are, rather obviously, not fulfilling this mandate.

A 20% pass maths pass mark is certainly not going to change this.

The resources currently dedicated to achieving these non-results could, and should, be put to better use. Especially when one considers that even an 80% mark in Matric maths is no guarantee of a job, let alone a long and prosperous career.

In a world where, according to McKinsey Global Institute, 41% of the already scarce jobs in South Africa are under threat of automation by currently available technology, not even a chartered accountancy qualification is enough education to guarantee future employment.

(Incidentally, accountants have a 94% probability of being replaced by robots or artificial intelligence within a decade. So maybe don’t waste four years and R120,000 on that degree.)

The type of memorised knowledge we still teach at schools, is not worth much in a day and age when anyone can access any information they desire, for free, through a simple Google search. The ability to learn, to continue learning throughout one’s life, however, is far more important than any examined knowledge.

This is why our schools should have a much simpler goal than the set of arbitrary pass marks they currently work towards. Our schools should exist to teach our students how to learn, and to inspire them to keep on learning throughout their lives.

Education should not be equated to a pass mark, a Matric Certificate or a University Degree. Those pieces of paper should be a means to an end, not an end in and of themselves. Education should be a doorway to life-long learning.

After all, all anyone needs in order to learn anything they like today is the ability to read and, an Internet connection to access the information online. Knowledge and information, even lectures from top-tier universities, are free and freely available, as long as you can afford the data bill.

So, here’s what I say. How about we redefine the purpose of our schools down to one simple objective – literacy. How about we go back to basics and simply teach our children to read and write. If a child can read well, in any language, they have the ability learn and teach themselves pretty much anything they ever want to learn.

Then, imagine we re-deploy a small fraction of the 200-billion odd rand we currently spend on schools and teachers achieving 20% maths pass rates; to providing every South African child with a reliable, free Internet connection (and perhaps throw in a free daily lunch too).

Imagine we then point our hungry, literate learners at the world’s collective knowledge, sit back and watch the magic happen.

They could hardly do a worse job teaching themselves than we are doing teaching them right now.


The race to zero

Blood-suckers beware.

If you get greedy with your profit margins, someone – some start up – leaner and hungrier will take your business.

That means, lawyers, doctors, bankers watch out.

Your margin is your competitors opportunity.

Technology is the great democratiser of our age.

If your business model extracts more value than you provide, you are in danger. No monopoly is exempt.



The un-purple cow

It used to be that building a great brand came down to creating a brilliant product – a product so brilliant that people who saw it or heard about it naturally wanted to buy it – and tell everyone else about it.

Now, millennial marketers have turned that basic principle on its head. Today marketing is equated with “content”.

It’s as if we’ve convinced ourselves that if we say enough nice things about our brand everyone else will a) find us and b) believe us.

The mantra is “the more content, the merrier.”

However, the truth is, if you brand was so wonderful, you wouldn’t need to say much about it at all. People would seek you out – you you would not have to trick them into reading your 500 word humble-brag article.

Content marketing is the business version of the selfie. It’s a little gross and distasteful, isn’t it?

Great products and services speak, very quietly, for themselves, without the aid of a paid spokesperson.

Who are you really trying to convince here?


Religion, business and other awkwardness

In modern, democratic civilisation, why should people who don’t follow a particular (or any) religion feel social pressure modify their behavior to avoid offending or inconveniencing someone who does?

Just think for a minute…

If you modify your behavior (however slightly) to appease the rules set by someone else’s god(s), you’ve got a moral and ethical problem on your hands.

The only way to completely avoid “offending” a person of a different religion is to convert to their religion. However, since there are so many religions, we will never succeed in making all of us happy and comfortable at the same time.

Offend and be offended.

That is the only alternative.

If you refrain from ordering beef in the presence of Hindus, pork in the presence of Jews or Muslims, or any sort of meat at all in the presence of pagan vegans, you are not just avoiding offence, you are also tacitly practicing their religion. You are being manipulated into doing something you would not usually do – into changing yourself – to suit, honour (in some way even unwittingly ‘worship’) another person’s god.


And then we get to the work place.

If you adjust any secular business work schedules or office rules to accommodate the religious time tables of selected groups of colleagues or employees, you have to do it for all religious groups (yes, even the ironic Pastafarians), or you imply unethical favouritism to a particular group.

Oh the conundrum.

Ultimately, it the individual is the one who has to chose between their job, their social circle and their religion.

The rest of us are not compelled to make that choice easier for the individual by accommodating the individuals religion through any sort of special allowances or personal sacrifices.

Surely a secular commercial enterprise should not feel pressure to give religious staff extra breaks during fast periods, move meetings away from prayer times or sacred days (especially when all the major religions pick a different day of the week to avoid work) or amend dress codes to the satisfaction of the office religious faction?

Every time you choose to amend behaviour or make allowances to avoid offending one religious group; you also explicitly offend everyone who is not a part of that group.

….And yet, every day, I read of more listed, commercial, businesses making ‘special allowances’ for staff of specific religions…

If business – the social entity that has the least incentive to make allowances of any kind – is making these allowances; it follows that it will not be long before the state also makes these special allowances for the vocally religious.

And if a country has different sets of standards – possible even a different set of rules – for a specific segment of the population… Well, we are all in trouble. Big trouble.


Equality or Liberty?

There comes a time every country, society and individual had to choose between Liberty and Equality; for the two are mutually exclusive.

You cannot achieve equality without violating the liberty of others. Likewise the definition of liberty forces one to accept inequality.

As for me, I choose freedom over fairness. I accept that I may not get everything I desire, but at least I am free to try.

What about you?

No one owes you anything

Are you an adult?

Are you old enough to work, drink, drive and vote?

Know how to read and write?


Lucky you.

Now read that headline again.

And again.

Got it?

No one ‘owes’ you anything.

No free education.

No job.

No car.

No ‘benefits’.

No ‘privileges’.

No handouts.

No kisses.

No relationships.

No respect or apologies, even.


You’re an adult.

Life’s not fair. Get over it. Stop whining.

Go out and EARN what you want.

If you don’t like where you are, move.

Eventually, we get what we deserve.