“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world,” Nelson Mandela once famously declared.
And yet, access to quality education remains a challenge in Africa. South Africa is not an exception: the country’s primary education system was ranked 126th out of 138 in the 2016-17 World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness report.
This is despite the country spending significantly more on education than its regional neighbours, including Malawi, Zimbabwe, and Zambia, which, according to information portal EduConnect, have better education systems.
This doesn’t bode well for the country. Global Citizen’s head of global policy and advocacy in Africa, Dr Okito Wedi, explains: “South Africa's deficient education system is arguably the single greatest obstacle to socio-economic advancement, replicating rather than reversing patterns of unemployment, poverty, and inequality.”
Given that the country has one of the highest rates of youth unemployment in the world, the current state of education denies a majority of young people the chance to break the cycle of poverty and inequality.
Wedi adds: “Currently, less than half of South African children acquire skills in basic literacy or numeracy in primary school, rendering them unable to complete secondary school and achieve university degrees or enter the professional job market.”
A significant part of the challenge of improving the quality of education is the “weak foundations from primary school,” Wedi explains.
According to the 2016 Progress in International Reading Literacy (PIRLS) study, 78% of grade 4 students in South Africa cannot read for meaning in any of the 11 official languages.
To mark the fifth anniversary of the UN Global Goals, Global Citizen is launching a call to action urging the government to improve the education system.
This follows the commitment made by President Cyril Ramaphosa at Global Citizen Festival: Mandela 100 on Dec. 2 last year, when he pledged an investment of R60 billion towards providing free education and improving access to quality education.
Ramaphosa’s commitment was further consolidated by the Minister of Finance, Tito Mboweni, is his budget speech when he announced that more than R30 billion has been allocated to build new schools and maintain schooling infrastructure.
Global Citizen believes that 2019 is the year to consolidate this legacy and #RaiseTheGrade by expanding the Early Grade Reading Study package to 500 schools in each of the nine provinces by 2020. The cost of doing so is R270 million.
Early Grade Reading is aimed at improving reading and comprehension skills. Reading has been proved fundamental in improving language skills, boosting confidence, and improving cognitive skills.