On 5 December 2013 South Africa and the world have lost one of the greatest leaders of mankind, Nelson Mandela. The nation and the world were in shock. It is now more than one year later, and the question is whether the world is a better place today. We mourned his passing, but we continue to celebrate his life as we are reminded of his legacy every day. In fact, today it is exactly 25 years since his release. Throughout South Africa and the rest of the world, people will honour his legacy by doing good deeds for their fellow human beings. Recognised globally as an icon, no other South African has had more impact on so many people throughout the world than Nelson Mandela. He is the best example of true moral leadership in the most difficult of times. We have much to thank Tata Madiba for one of the most successful political transitions the world has ever seen. His biggest achievement was the eradication of apartheid, thereby helping the country to turn around from an oppressive regime to a fully-fledged modern democracy.
However, I don’t think that Mandela would be satisfied with the quality of education we provide to the majority of our children. I have very bad news for government: You will never achieve equality without equal high quality education. Mandela used to say: “Education is the most powerful weapon that can change the world.” But the opposite is disastrous. I want to turn his words around and say: “Poor education is the most destructive weapon that can destroy the world.” While politicians, principals, teachers, education bureaucrats and parents at privileged schools are either in denial, or simply ignorant, tonight I stand in front of you representing HR Managers as the people who employ (or rather refuse to employ) our school leavers. A survey has shown that 86% of employers are not satisfied with the matric marks and feel that school leavers are unemployable. As an employer myself, you sometimes reach the point you give the school leaver the benefit of the doubt and offer him or her a chance. Within a week, you establish with shock that the new employee:
- Can’t write properly – you have to discard their writing or fix their errors for them – the average matriculant can’t write a decent one page letter or memorandum;
- The mathematical and thinking ability is sometimes so inadequate that you can’t let them lose to work on your numbers or that of your clients – the business risk is simply too big.
- They don’t have typical work ethic, work skills and common sense to do things properly.
- Their communication skills are so poorly developed that they are a risk to themselves, other staff, suppliers, customers and the business.
The Partners for Possibility programme has all the statistics about the poor state of education in South Africa. Tomorrow the President will deliver his State of the Nation Address. I wander what the Minister of Basic Education will say if she has to present the State of Education in South Africa address. Yes, we know she will say it is good, or we have made good progress. The reality is that all authoritative international bodies such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, the World Competitiveness Report and many others have without exception for more than a decade reported research results showing the poor state of education. And for us as employers, we see it every day. The future of our country depends on our children. They are the leaders, professionals and workers of tomorrow. Not only do we limit their careers, we are setting them up for failure if we do not provide them with the best possible education – the highest quality of education that our beautiful and energetic youth deserves.
I dream of a South Africa with equal high quality education. We have become so accustomed to mediocrity that it has become a way of life. Bridging courses have become the norm as if it is normal. In fact, bridging courses are abnormal. A bridging course is a remedial programme delivered for drop-outs or poor performers of the previous school in the education value chain. It is an admission of a failed system. We start with poor early childhood development, then we move to primary and secondary education, to college to university to post-graduate, and in between these different segments of the education value chain we have bridging courses as evidence, acceptance and tolerance that the previous school has failed to deliver the quality you need to advance to the next level of education. Tonight I call for a scrapping of all bridging courses, and the only way to do that is to build real quality into all segments of the education system.
As the HR quality assurance and professional body of South Africa, SABPP is supporting The Partners for Possibility Initiative. We have allocated HR professionals to work with principals at schools in order to ensure proper and professional HR practices. In this way we are making a contribution, not only to improve education, but also to create a better South Africa for all of us, including our children. The little ones deserve the best. But why are we supporting this initiative?
- The new National HR Competency Model specifies duty to society and citizenship for the future as two of the most important HR competencies.
- The Partners for Possibility Initiative is about radical transformation and change within a school – no other institution or programme could deliver any meaningful impact, this is about real and significant change with almost immediate results.
- Partners for Possibility bring multiple stakeholders together – parents, children, teachers, principals, accountants, business leaders, HR professionals – all pooling their energies and resources to make schools functional and performing.
We need better principals and better teachers. In no other country in the world will a teacher be allowed to teach a subject he or she has failed. Why are we doing it to our children? Why do we continue to offer an inferior education to our children? Don’t we care about them?
In conclusion, the life and legacy of Nelson Mandela offers principals, business leaders and HR professionals with ample opportunities to live his legacy on a daily basis. Inequality and skills gaps can not be perpetuated. A few years back Mandela made this statement: “The future of South African businesses will be evaluated largely on its human resources development.” Skills development is at the centre of human resource management, and as a community of professionals it is our duty to society to rise to the occasion in developing the people of South Africa.
Likewise, Mandela labelled affirmative action “corrective action,” and twenty years after the birth of our democracy, we are still haunted by the reality of apartheid’s inequalities. Thus, HR professionals could play a key role in addressing the two national challenges of poor people development and inequality, given the fact that these two issues go hand in hand. Therefore, rectifying these gaps is not only key to sound people management, but also an imperative for nation-building and stability.
I want to congratulate all the principals and business leaders and HR professionals and other stakeholders involved in the Partners for Possibility Programme. You are the new stars of education transformation. You are the people proclaiming that enough is enough. Poor education must be deleted from our class rooms and rooted out of our communities and be replaced with a good and sound education giving a child a chance in life to succeed. A very big congratulations to Louise van Rhyn, what a remarkable woman for making this change happen against all odds. Thank you to Mandy Collins for writing this up in such a superb book. This book must be prescribed reading for all principals, teachers and parents. The book epitomises what real South Africans are all about – we are change agents creating a better society for the next generation of South Africans.
As a community of more than 120 000 HR professionals in South Africa, we are a strong group of change agents who can continue being the custodians of humanity in schools, the workplace and socio-economic environments of employees. It is my wish that all of us here tonight will continue to play our role in building the country Mandela was dreaming about. As Nelson Mandela said: “What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.” And that is exactly what Partners for Possibility is all about – opening the door that was closed before; opening the opportunity for our children to reach their full potential. Ten years from now, or perhaps fifteen, i.e. 2030 when we will judge ourselves against the National Development Plan (NDP) and see whether we have achieved a better South Africa for all of us, let us keep the dream alive and make it happen.
Marius Meyer is CEO of the SA Board for People Practices (SABPP), the HR quality assurance and professional body. Follow SABPP on twitter @SABPP1