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YOUTH DAY: Optimising corporate social investment in education for the next generation

While the impact of corporate social investment (CSI) initiatives in schools may be just the tip of the iceberg in terms of influence in improving education in South Africa, collaborative business interventions whose learnings feed into supporting the state education behemoth have a vital role to play in driving systemic change, according to leaders speaking at the Trialogue Business in Society Conference. 

Trialogue research shows that education has been the biggest area of CSI spend since first measured in 1998, with almost all companies surveyed in 2022 (98%) supporting education programmes. Shifts are happening within education spend, with early childhood development increasing from an average of 13% of education spend in 2021 to 27% in 2022.  As in previous years, in 2022 the largest spend was on bursaries, scholarships and university chairs (27%), followed by learner development at 18% and teacher development at 14%. 

Gbenga Oyebode, Chair of the African Philanthropy Forum, says that investment in education in Africa does not match demographic trends on the continent and called for consistent investment in building education and leadership as critical components of driving transformational impact.  

Oyebode recommended four steps to transform the future of education and leadership in Africa: increasing access to education, embracing technology, developing leadership skills and addressing inequality. “As business, we must consider empowering organisations involved in improving education not just as part of once-off corporate social responsibility events, but as part of our long term ESG activities, which are more radical and transformative ways of engaging with systems,” Oyebode said.

Dr Nicky Roberts, director of Kelello Consulting, identified languages and mathematics in early grades, initial teacher education and ongoing professional development, particularly in technology, as specific areas that can benefit from corporate support.

“We need a greater understanding of how South Africa’s multilingualism effects early learning. Companies should support research in this area and invest in providing nuanced, quality African language materials that address South Africa’s complex bilingual needs,” says Roberts. “There is a need for digital learning materials that are available on zero-rated sites, particularly in African languages.” 

Roberts says that while significant resources are being channelled into ongoing teacher development, insufficient investment is going into selection, accreditation and qualification of new teachers.  “Data shows that roughly half (48%) of publicly paid teachers in South Africa will retire in the next ten years. New teachers must be well educated.”

Ongoing professional development, particularly in technology, is a critical area for CSI intervention and business should work closely with the education department to actualise existing digital learning frameworks and stages of ICT integration, according to Roberts. She further urged business to address data costs. “Our data costs are outrageous and this is one of the major inhibitors of ICT in education. Free data for youth would be a fundamental shift in how youth can engage in our country.” 

Dr Shafika Isaacs, Telkom Foundation Chairperson, highlighted learnings from the Telkom Connected Schools programme that go well beyond implementing technology. Isaacs said that the psychosocial aspects of working with teachers, building leadership capabilities in the schools, making learners feel seen and creating a caring environment are critical. “The depth of the struggle our learners contend with each day is unfathomable. Learners, first and foremost, have to develop a vision beyond the circumstances that they are in and see themselves as creators, growing not just digital skills, but a sense of digital agency.”  

Isaacs said working well with government was key. “We had to challenge our assumptions on how we work well as a private company with the state to make an impact, taking learnings from our experience at a micro-level.”

Dr Mzamani Mdaka of the National Education Collaboration Trust (NECT) further emphasised the importance of partnerships, including with the state, for effective corporate social investment. “If you have uncoordinated support, you risk disrupting the system. Before you transform, look at how you can strengthen the system. We are working on Integrated District Improvement programmes. If districts are functional, they can support functional schools.”

Roberts advocated for clarity of purpose that aligns with the education department’s existing theory of change and projects that clearly identify and measure against the state’s existing principles. “CSI education interventions should partner with the education department towards the goal of active redress, considering all the influential factors surrounding the intervention to ensure effectiveness. There is a need for business to deepen existing initiatives towards strengthening state provision.”