For a number of years now, those in political and other leadership positions have boasted about South Africa being a Knowledge Economy. Whilst it may be true in some contexts, our Global Competitiveness Index tells a different story. Today, we will briefly explore two factors that we believe are essential to any knowledge economy, namely:
- A quality education system
- The ability or capacity to use innovation to the benefit of the economy
EDUCATION AS KEY TO KNOWLEDGE ECONOMIES
There is a myth stating that one only needs raw instinct or natural ability to contribute to a knowledge economy. This myth holds that so called “street smarts” is more essential than academic learning. In its most radical form, this myth does not acknowledge the possibility that a knowledge economy could contain a combination of street smarts and academic learning.
In contrast to this myth, we believe that academic grounding provides context, insight and flexible reference frameworks to complement street smarts. We believe that education systems that compete with the best in the world are what make knowledge economies strong. Firm foundations in primary education and in secondary education are what the knowledge economy needs.
In this regard, South Africa must take serious introspection and ask how the country can gain a stronger footage in quality education. Since 2007, the quality of the education system as well as the quality of math and science hovered in the bottom one hundred of the world economies.
That is no longer good enough! South Africa has to find ways to break free of the bonds that mediocrity imposes on it. It can no longer be considered an unpatriotic act or a form of colonialism (as some insist) to excel in education as well as in mathematics and science.
Since 2007, an inadequately trained workforce has been the topmost or the second most factor that holds back economic development in South Africa. Then, from 2012, a new factor suddenly emerged: the inability to innovate! The country is now starting to see the fruits of an education system that still refuses to break out of the bottom 100 in the world. Slowly, sub-Saharan Africa is overtaking us as was so clearly pointed out at the most recent African Union summit in Sandton.
In the latest (2014 to 2015) Global competitiveness index, sub-Saharan Africa’s health care and primary education has overtaken that of South Africa. Other competitiveness factors are closing in and, by the next decade, the once, darling, Rainbow Nation could be pointed out to be a piece of faded linen that no one wants.
A LUTA CONTINUA!
In the near future a new socio-economic revolution is ready to burst forth. This revolution will not be blaming Apartheid for our downward trends. It will not blame Colonialism, Euro-Centrism or any other –ism that is so freely bandied about. It will continue to point to high school diplomas where 35% is considered to be an achievement. It will point to university degrees where 50% is seen as the pinnacle of excellence.
It will point to a time and a place where education has been sacrificed in an effort to fill ballot boxes.
It will point to a nation wandering in the desert and drinking sand because they do not remember the life-giving property of knowledge.