The role companies can play in fostering education, helping governments meet their goals and contributing to economic growth across the continent was in the spotlight at the University of Free State, in Bloemfontein, on Tuesday, 26 September 2017. The University, in partnership with the Oliver & Adelaide Tambo Foundation and Absa, hosted a high-level dialogue session to discuss opportunities and education challenges facing, not only South Africa, but the African continent as a whole.

The dialogue, titled “Educating Africa’s Future”, was part of a series of debates which aim to unpack a range of socio-economic issues affecting South Africa’s, and the rest of the African continent’s development.

Panellists included Dr Pali Lehohla, South Africa’s longest-serving Statistician-General. The discussion was attended by various stakeholders, including academics, students, business and political leaders, policy makers, regulators, investors and keys stakeholders, all of whom addressed some of the issues affecting Africa’s education prospects.

Among the issues discussed were how Africa is faring when it comes to providing young people with the necessary quality education and skills that will expand their capacity, thinking, and expertise, enabling them to become more meaningful contributors towards the continent’s development.

Access to education

Dr Reaan Immelman, General Manager of Education and Skills at Absa, says the debate comes at a time when there is a continued focus on access to education – especially at tertiary level.

“Education is also a key pillar of our National Development Plan, which envisages that by 2030 - South Africans will have universal early childhood education. It also envisages quality school education across all levels, with globally competitive literacy and numeracy standards, as well as further and higher education and training that allows people to fulfil their potential.”

“This expanding higher-education sector should boost incomes and productivity, and shift South Africa towards a knowledge-based economy,” adds Immelman. There is also a target for a wider system of innovation that links universities, science councils and independent research and development institutions with priority areas of the economy, he says.

There is little doubt among economists, social scientists, politicians and business, that the key to stimulating economic growth and prosperity for all in Africa depends, in large measure, on our ability to pull together to ensure all Africans receive good quality education – from pre-primary through to tertiary. Importantly, the education offered needs to be far better aligned with the skills business desperately needs to fuel economies.

South Africa is not alone in making education a priority as part of economic growth: The African Union’s vision 2063 desires a “prosperous Africa, based on inclusive growth and sustainable development”.

Critical role

Immelman notes business has a very critical role to play, in collaboration with government, by helping improve knowledge and skills of workers by contributing to technical and vocational education and training. This will help boost local economies and build an appropriately skilled workforce.

“The Oliver & Adelaide Tambo Foundation debates, such as this one at the University of Free State, are not only relevant, but are also important in highlighting these issues and seeking sustainable solutions,” adds Immelman. As a bank , we have reaffirmed our commitment to economic and socio-economic growth on the continent through our Shared Growth strategy, pledging R210 million in 2017 through the Barclays Africa Group’s 2017 CEO Scholarship Fund. This will result in 3 000 university students across our ten African markets receiving a scholarship for the current academic year.”

Adelaide & Oliver Tambo Foundation CEO, Linda Vilakazi, says: “As part of commemorating the legacy of Oliver and Adelaide Tambo, and the immense contribution they made to the advancement of our society, we are delighted to deliver these debates.

“The idea is to generate critical conversations on some of the most important issues and challenges facing our country. This is in keeping with our beliefs that we must tackle our challenges head-on, and overcome them so that they do not keep us from achieving our potential.”