Education is one of Africa’s greatest missed opportunities, plagued by mistakes and mismanagement, played out over generations from the very first post-colonial governments. But there is an opportunity to use technology to bridge the education gap.

This according to Mamphela Ramphele, speaking at the opening of African Education Week yesterday.

“We have not and, in too many cases, we still do no not, invest enough as we should do in education,” she adds.
Ramphele points out that the inequality gap in middle-income countries like South Africa is widening.

“In many African countries we are seeing two speed education systems in which the middle and upper class have bought themselves out of the failing public education systems and are paying for first class education for their children. The gap between poor and well-to-do children is growing on our continent.”

She points out that year’s World Economic Forum debated ways in which we can “unlock Africa’s talent”, and that business leaders know that it is education that creates productive and capable workers and they often invest in developing their people to.
“Academics and policy makers set down fine strategies. And there are many teachers and educators who take great pride in their profession and care in their role as the guardians of young people,” she says. “And yet we are still failing too many of our young people.”

Ramphele says South Africa’s schools are failing children on a massive scale, with 66% of students who enrolled in Grade 1 as six-year-olds in 2001 not making it to or not passing their Matric exams in 2012. And only 10% of 2012’s “born frees” were eligible for studies at tertiary level.

“South Africa, with the highest proportion of GDP spent on education, at R234-billion per year, has the worst performance of all African countries in the outcomes of the teaching of maths and science – 143 out of 144 countries: only better than Yemen, a conflict-ridden, poor country.”
Ramphele adds that South Africa has a second-class education system that accepts second-rate results, and blames a lack of political will for the system’s failures.

“For too many young learners mud schools, pit latrines, no libraries and no electricity are a daily reality,” she says. “These collective failures in teaching, infrastructure and student performance are emblematic of where South Africa is as a society.

“Why should a sophisticated county like South Africa not ensure that we use our highly developed ICT industry to leapfrog the challenges of enhancing quality education? Why do we still depend on textbooks in the 21st century when tablets can do the job?”