Investing in the sustainable future of South African youth

There’s a universally-held belief that children are the leaders of tomorrow and need to be nurtured in order to ready them for a secure and successful future. In South Africa, we have over 12 million children attending schools and the assumption stands that access into the formal education system guarantees that they are well-equipped to be the so-called ‘leaders of tomorrow’. But we know this is not the case.

WHAT WE KNOW: research on inequalities in education

For quintile 1-3 schools, only 14% of learners who start grade 1 go on to achieve a bachelor pass, and only 1% can get a good quality maths pass that allows them entry into tertiary institutions. We’ve also stepped out of a year where millions of learners were out of school and disengaged from learning for a considerable period of time. Above that, there’s the dire reality of increased rates in dropouts and grade repetition from a majority of public schools in rural and township communities. Grade repetition – which, on average, has learners take 3 years longer to complete school – has been reported to cost the system over R20 billion a year. Unemployment among young people is nearly at 50% – the single biggest driver of income inequality in SA. Indeed, there is seemingly a weak correlation between the marketed promise of developing youth to be ‘future leaders’, and the outcome of the institutional systems put in place to achieve this. This calls for us to review and reconsider the allocation of our country’s resources and funding in education. If we want to ensure that our youth thrive, succeed and live sustainable lives in the future, what does that investment look like?

WHAT WE NEED: After School Programmes as an intervention

The answer to this already exists in After School programmes (ASPs). The After School sector offers a diversity of programmes, models, and focus areas that are all united by a common goal: to enable learners to thrive and succeed. The sector comprises of programmes run largely by CBOs and NGOs serving learners in quintile 1-3 schools, and/or their parents, teachers and principals. As an inequality intervention, ASPs fill the learning and opportunity gaps felt by learners in schools with a low-income demographic. The programmes complement formal schooling with extra academic and psychosocial support; safe places to learn and play; enrichment opportunities and meals – creating conducive environments for holistic development. Thanks to increased cross-sector collaboration and research, it has become evident that After School plays an important role in the education ecosystem: it is well-positioned to meet learners where they are and help them reach grade level.

The After School Investment Case, our recently published report exposes the inefficient state of our education system – as revealed in a collection of research reports – and outlines the return on investments into ASPs. The education system has been underdelivering on learner outcomes for a while now, with state spending (over 6% of the GDP) prioritising personnel development, salaries and infrastructure.

HOW IT HELPS: improving education outcomes

Investment into ASPs improves the education system’s significant spend by increasing the likelihood that children will achieve quality learning outcomes, despite the wave of Covid-induced learning deficits. The Investment Case shares two case studies – from IkamvaYouth and OLICO – that demonstrate ASPs potential to not only decrease the number of schooling-years required per learning outcome, but essentially guarantee that the state spends less to ensure learners excel (particularly in maths and science), and qualify for a Bachelors’ degree. A higher qualification in SA, and indeed globally, has been proven to determine access to the job market, increase earning ability, and potentially improve ones’ socio-economic quality of life. IkamvaYouth and OLICO are but only two amongst many such initiatives around the country that have seen success through augmenting classroom time and enriching children’s experience of learning in ways that deeply transform their academic performance and futures.

WHY IT MATTERS: investing in youth for a sustainable future

Given the belief that our future is in the hands of our youth, it is reasonable to expect that the investments put into education actually result in quality learning outcomes for youth. If the Global Impact Investor Network’s 2020 survey is anything to go by, there is great opportunity to invest in the future of our youth by ensuring they can access quality ASPs that are well funded and scaled. According to the survey, there are already 43% of impact investors who have allocated funding into our continent, with a portion of these contributing to the education sector. Unfortunately, there are too many examples of big education projects with significant budgets yielding results that are either insignificant or non-existent; and often the return on these big investments isn’t even measured.

A strong case can thus be made for Social Impact Bonds (SIBs), as seen with the launch of the Impact Bond Innovation Fund of 2018, which saw a focus on early childhood development. Under this model, government would pay for the outcomes that investors (development finance institutions, corporates, donors, high-income individuals) fund. We’ve seen ASPs redress the inequality gaps felt by learners from low- to no-fee schools during this pandemic and an investment in this area of the education sector effectively ties to priorities outlined in the National Development Plan. Investing in After School promotes social justice and builds skills we need to create a sustainable future for our youth.