Reimagining Education in Africa, Improving Access for Millions

“As a very practical learner who grasps concepts better when taught in person, I knew that the new online mode of learning would not be my best bet,” Asive Swazi, a 2021 Bachelor of Commerce Law graduate.

For many of our bursary students the shift to remote and online learning was a threat to their education. This came as no surprise because prior to the pandemic the shift from secondary school to university was a well-known period of distress for many young people. The Department of Higher Education and Training reports that after five years of study, on average only 40% of students successfully graduate.

Guided by UNESCO, the theme for International Education Day 2022 is: Changing Course, Transforming Education. Whilst the pandemic brought to the forefront, and in some cases worsened, the inequality between schools, universities, and the students themselves, it also provided an alternative pathway to new models of teaching and learning that can – if implemented effectively – improve access to quality education for millions.

Status of Education in South Africa

Across South Africa, more than 3,000 schools still have pit toilets. Only 18% of high schools have a laboratory and 1-in-3 schools still don’t have access to clean drinking water and sanitation. This inequality at the basic education level worsens at universities, where only 12 of every 100 students who complete matric gain entry into university, and over one-fifth of first year students drop out.

The Motsepe Foundation has, for the last eight years, contributed to improving learning outcomes by providing resources, infrastructure and funding to schools and students across the country. These investments hold long-term impact for the young people who are growing up in poor homes and want to use their education to improve their circumstances.

But the pandemic sent a reeling disruption to the work of the Foundation and the many NGOs who operate in the education sector. The investments made into making schools a safe and productive environment for learning were no longer a priority when students were required to learn from home, and access to the internet and other technology became the new normal.

Online Teaching and Learning

Digital skills are a pre-requisite to thousands of entry-level positions, which are currently going un-filled in the labour market. This is according to Harambee’s study into digital and ICT roles in South Africa. This misalignment in available skills and the education provided to South African youth is stifling South Africa’s growth and the contributions of our young people to South Africa’s transformation.

Access to technology and the skills that accompany its use is the new era of education. But this era requires that we reimagine education – the role and purpose of institutions and schools, and the career paths that we encourage young people to aspire toward.

With over 2,000 students supported by the Motsepe Foundation in their university studies, a majority have been graduates in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). By encouraging students towards these sectors, where opportunities to contribute their knowledge and talents are growing, our goal is to align more young people to the changing expectations businesses, society and institutions require from education and the learners matriculating and graduating each year.

Mental Health

To achieve this reimagined education system involves a new culture of care, sustaining the levels of compassion shown by all spheres of society during the height of the pandemic. The pandemic brought education institutions together, and it created links between the institution, the student and their households in a transformational dynamic of social relations never seen before.

In South Africa, the high rate of suicide among university students has become a rising cause of concern. Data from the World Health Organisation, working with universities around the world, find that approximately one-third of students report symptoms of psychological distress in two of the largest South African universities. Research published by the International Journal of Environmental and Public Health found that the risk of dying by suicide in South Africa increases with level of education.

The pressures we put on young people to achieve must be accompanied by compassion and a renewed culture of supporting one another in a psychosocial capacity.

The high number of first generation students matriculating and entering university is challenged by an economic reality of high youth unemployment. Effectively changing our course to transform education must go hand-in-hand with providing emotional support to young people who are living through this transformation, by quelling their anxiety and distress as they prepare themselves for jobs that do not yet exist.

“Whilst I was going through all that psychological turmoil, the Motsepe Foundation bursary team was first to reassure me that they will assist with everything. A laptop was provided for me, data was provided, webinars on mental health and efficient methods of studying during the pandemic were hosted regularly and once again I felt at ease thanks to your efforts and generosity,” added Asive Swazi.

Congratulations to our graduates of 2021! A new journey begins.