Businesses throwing cash at education won’t solve problems

Written by Yazeed Kamaldien

Businesses investing in education should not throw money at problems but instead help schools build educator’s capacity for better results.

This is the response from education specialists regarding the R100-million donation to Free State schools from Shanduka Group, a company owned by ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa, in early March.

Kagiso Trust, an education support NGO with an investment wing, matched Ramaphosa’s donation while the Free State education department said it would add R200-million towards efforts to improve education.

A total R400-million has been allocated for a five-year project implemented by Ramaphosa’s Adopt-a-School Foundation and Kagiso Trust. It will reportedly target 400 schools in Botshabelo, Thaba Nchu and Fezile Dabi district.

The Mail & Guardian reported at the time that funds would “benefit the schools through infrastructure improvement, as well as development of management skills and teachers’ curriculum knowledge.”

Ramaphosa challenged other businesses to do likewise because he believes government cannot go it alone to ensure quality public schooling.

Louis van Rhyn, founder of non-profit ç, said it was essential that businesses donated funds to education but returns on that investment depended on how the money would be spent.

Van Rhyn started Symphonia in 2010 to focus on strengthening schools via various interventions. Since then she discovered that schools do not want to be dependent on businesses, but seek them as partners in providing education.

“I absolutely agree whole-heartedly that business has a role to play (in education). We need to just be clear about what is the appropriate way,” she said.

“The old style is that business comes with a big cheques and think they can assert their authority on schools. That just creates dependency.

“It is demeaning and disrespectful. You must hear school principals talk about how businesses make donations to feel better and think that everybody should now be grateful.”

Van Rhyn says donations also needed to be appropriate to the needs of the school.

“Some schools have rooms where they keep all the stuff that businesses donated to them, but they can’t use. That school would be better off with another IT teacher or training for a Math teacher as most schools don’t have enough teachers or teacher support,” she said.

One of Symphonia’s projects matches business leaders with school principals. Van Rhyn says this was started because “our principals are not adequately supported so we are supporting principals.”

“We have to equip our school principals and support them. The best way to support them is to connect them to business,” she said.

So instead of asking businesses to donate funds, Symphonia asks business leaders to invest time at the school to offer principals insight into organisational, financial and resource management.

“It’s a reciprocal relationship and principals are treated as a resource in this process. Businesses bring their knowledge, skills and manpower into the schools. We bring business leaders in as a thinking partner for the principal. The business leader learns from the principal as well,” said Van Rhyn.

“You need to spend time at schools and find the real needs. Out of that you develop the right approach and a vision for a school. You help the school find what they need. You can’t just throw money at problems. We need capacity, skills and resources to improve education.”

Another vital lesson Van Rhyn learned was that principals value partnerships but “hate the idea of adopt-a-school.”

“They don’t want to be adopted. You don’t adopt a school. You can partner with a school. It’s not about a quick fix because that is not sustainable. The best way to go about this is for a business to make a five-year commitment to a school and work with it,” she said.

A number of major corporations with investments in education choose to intervene at primary school level, confirms research from the CRF Institute.

Its country manager Samantha Crous says corporates believe that South African education is in a crisis and they want to ensure an adequate talent supply for their ranks.

CRF Institute, formerly called Corporate Research Foundation, independently audits corporations and compiles its annual Top Employers list that indicates best performance in human resources and other fields.

Investment in education was a common thread among some top performers, said Crous.

“We are seeing significant investment in training and developing the whole person, with professional and financial services at the very top of the list; and this is encouraging. It means corporates are not content to accept a gradual dumbing down of the workforce,” said Crous.

She said Dimension Data had programmes to intervene at school level because the education system was in a “crisis.” This company offers bursaries and runs an entrepreneurship programme at high schools.

CRF says a total 27,500 learners have benefited from the company’s e-learning programmes across 53 schools and annually.

“Dimension Data’s Saturday School programme provides intensive support for 100 learners in reaching matric and preparing for higher education. Successes include a 100% matric pass rate, and 95% university entrance. In 2011, 50 of its learners notched up 68 distinctions,” said CRF.

CRF reflects on last year’s Annual National Assessment when framing the country’s education system as frail. It said that assessment showed by Grade 6, “the national average performance in languages was a scant 43% in the learner’s home language, and average performance in Math sat at 27%.”

“Clearly, learners are not getting what they need in schools. This has a knock-on effect at universities. The implications are also concerning for South Africa’s workforce, naturally,” said Crous.

“It is the school-leaving and graduate talent that is thin on the ground. And it is this that corporates are feeling the need to address.”

Crous cautioned though that it was “not always ideal” for businesses to finance education.

“We should be cautious of companies taking on the role of tertiary institutions. Universities and colleges do not have affiliations that can influence their teaching to the same extent that companies do. We should be vigilant both ethically and ideologically. And we certainly need to keep a close eye on what these professionals are being taught,” she said.

Equal Education lobby group meanwhile cautioned that businesses getting involved in education could be problematic.

Doron Isaacs, one of the group’s leaders, says Ramaphosa’s donation “in principle, it is positive.”

“As Ramaphosa suggests it is in fact a duty of business, not a kindness. But it is not positive when business simply wants to make money out of education, but when companies donate that is positive,” said Isaacs.

“The efficacy of the donation will depend on the merit in the project. In the past too many businesses have donated to gimmicks instead of proper investment in infrastructure, provision of textbooks and libraries, and teacher training and support. This is where investment is needed from government and business.”

He added: “Nevertheless we do urge business to coordinate their spending efforts with government, and not try to take over the governance of education.”

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About Yazeed Kamaldien

Self-employed journalist and photographer from South Africa.

One response to “Businesses throwing cash at education won’t solve problems”

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