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.

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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?

Yourself?

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?

Able-bodied?

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.

Nothing.

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.

 

On equality

Why do we strive for equality? We say we want smaller wage gaps, equal pay, equal rights, equal privilege, equal opportunites.

But do you really want to be equal with everyone else?

The worldwide median family income is less than $10,000 per annum.

That would be ‘fair’.

But do YOU want YOUR family to live on less than $10,000 per annum?

If you’re reading this on a computer, achieving that ‘fair’ wage will require YOU to give up a large chunk of your net-worth (and a good few bedrooms in your house).

It will require giving up luxuries like WiFi, seaside holidays and good wine (the stuff that comes in a nice understated bottle).

It will require giving up retirement plans and financial security, and living hand to mouth.

Do you still want to be equal?

What is ‘fair’ anyway? 

Life is not fair. Far from it.

Life is extremely UNFAIR, naturally.

You can see this in the wild. Some plants and animals are simply at the bottom of the food chain. Others are at the top.

Likewise, some people are born uncommonly beautiful. Or smart. Or tall. Or strong. Or thin. Or in a nicer climate.

Or rich.

Others are less fortunate.

However, we don’t insist that beautiful people wear bags on their heads to hide their gifted looks.

We don’t insist great minds get penalised with a frontal lobotomy to even the playing field.

We don’t shorten tall people’s legs. Or break the legs of great athletes to make them just the same as the rest of us.

We don’t force everyone to live in the Sahara desert – so we can all endure the same crappy climate.

No.

We understand that there is no way to make these things fair and equal. Some people simply luck out.

Why then, when it comes to wealth, do we attempt to fix the system?

Why do we wish to penalise and punish the lucky in wealth?

Imagine if we applied the same forced equality principles to love… and forced all happy couples, the lucky in love, to break up their relationships to be equal to all the people broken homes…

Equality makes no sence if you have to take something from someone else to make it so.

 

 

 

Ask yourself these two questions before you post another update

Is this needy? 

Am I fishing for compliments? Begging for “likes” to boost my self-esteem?
Am I doing the online equivalent of asking the world if these jeans make me look fat?

Is this narcissistic?

Am I bragging? Showing off?
Am I just talking about myself and my selfies?

Before you post your next brand, business, or even a personal update on your favourite social media platform, ask yourself these two questions.

If the answer to either is “yes” do not press send.

Go back to the drawing board and come up with something valuable to humanity. Or, at least, useful to your target market.  Do not post things that are merely comforting to your own vanity.

 

What sort of government do you want?

With the whole world talking about the American primaries, politics are popular right now.

But have you ever though about what kind of government you really want?

Far Right? Far Left?

Republican? Democrat?

Fascist? Communist?

For me, there is only one answer.

I’ll take any of the above, as long as they leave me alone.

The best government is a small government with small powers of authority, a small military and a very small budget to waste.

On the topic of free education

Across the world, students are demanding free higher, university level education.

Here is my question:

The thing with ‘free’ eduction though, is that someone still has to pay. If the student or their family does not foot the bill, someone else has to pay for the lecturers, books, buildings, electricity and the like.

The someone, in this case, is the state.

If the state (and the taxpayers by association, since the state if funded by taxpayers) pays for their education, should the state then not have the right to decide what they study?

Should the state not have the right to offer free education, but only for degrees for which there is a demand for new graduates?

After all, the logical (not the emotional ‘fairness’ ideology which I will ignore for now) argument for ‘free’ education is that a better educated population equals a better, more productive workforce, which in turn equals a better economy, which in turn benefits the benefactors of the free education; the state and the tax payers.

The issue is, what happens when most of the students who hope to be recipients of this policy decide they want to study art history and basic psychology?

After all, a  three year Bachelor of Arts degree seems like so much more ‘fun’ than a lengthy medical or engineering programme.

But how many arts graduates does an economy really need? Does a surplus arts grad increase their own employability, or add value to the economy that sponsored their indulgence?

Surely, if raging baby boomer tax payers have to pay for student education, they should get something out of the deal too; doctors, nurses, teachers, engineers, etc.

Somehow I don’t think the student protestors will go for this logic though.

They want the free education – without any strings attached. Why should they have to pay back any sort of debt to scociety?

 

 

On the cult of content

Do brands really need to become publishers to ‘survive’ today?

I would say no.

No consumer* wants to read another piece of ad content written by a brand, ad agency or PR company thing disguised as “useful editorial”.

No one benefits** from more words being written; from more content clutter on the “inter webs”.

Not even businesses.

Businesses should focus on what they do best – creating products and services for which there is a demand. If you supply a demand, you will succeed, whether or not you write (or pay someone to write) 350 – 500 words on the subject once a day.

I predict that the current content culture will, in time (although not soon enough) be seen as one of the biggest follies of our age.

Brand generated content should be as embarrassing to businesses as selfies are to human beings.

*The only people who win in a world where every brand and business is trying to become a publishing “thought leader” are the b-grade journalists and writers who found themselves become irrelevant and out of work when the media-advertsing-industrial complex died along with the advent of the internet. Luckily for them, they still had the dying embers of the media to sell us on the idea of content being the next big thing before they faded into obscurity…)

**Yes, I am aware of the irony of writing this opinion piece on a blog and the fact that for most of my adult life I have been paid to write, spin and publish content, but at least I have the humility to be embarrassed about it.

Who is your master?

If you work for a salary, or even own a business that requires you to work a defined number of hours in a defined place every week, you are a slave.

A slave is dependant on a master.

A slave is tied to a physical location – a time and place, not of his choosing, but of his master’s.

You are only truly your own master when your livelihood is not dependant on an hourly rate.

You are not free if you depend on someone else for a pay check or a grant.

If you depend on a pay check to survive, you are no less than six months from bankruptcy at any given time.

You are not free if your income depends on being in a particular place every day.

As long as your income is tied to (i.e. directly proportional to) your time, you can never be free of financial worry.

You are not free as long as your finances are dependant on your physical body.

The goal needs to be to separate your income from yourself – to create a location and time independent income stream.

You need to make sure your income is not dependant on any one person, company or even economy.

Your income needs to be self-sufficient, untied from any external factor’s success.

That’s the only way to stop being a slave.