Source: Thought Catalog on Unsplash
Dividends, the financial rewards that listed and profitable companies usually share with their investors, can also be the benefits that productive and focused youth can bring to society. How apt then that June is commonly referred to in South Africa as Youth Month, a fitting tribute to the youth whose ‘dividends’ have and continue to shape the world we are living in. Who can forget the gallant South African young lions in 1976 who confronted the might of the South African security apparatus in their demand for decent education; Malala Yousafzai, who took a Taliban bullet in her fight for education access for girls in Pakistan; or Greta Thunberg, who has mobilised millions of people in the quest for a sustainable planet? Let’s also not forget that Mark Zuckerberg started Facebook whilst in his teens; that Sergey Brin and Larry Page launched Google when still PhD students; or that Gia Polivin and Leigh Meinert were in their 20s when they co-founded Tsiba Education NPC in Cape Town.
Despite our current ‘junk’ rated economy and many social challenges, South African youth like their international peers too have ambition, energy and the potential to place our country on a new growth trajectory. But they cannot create magic on their own. Young people across the globe need enablers which include relevant skills, a supportive socio-economic environment, inspiration and mentoring and a healthy dose of youthful determination. And this is where South Africa falls woefully short! A failing education system, mediocre state support and entitlement, complacency and despair in our youth have become significant inhibiting factors, with a cumulative result of increasing numbers facing unemployment and despair.
Unlike ageing populations, for example, Japan, South Africa is blessed with a youth bulge demographic profile. Unlocking the youth dividend through employment relevant education and skills development, and subsequent economic opportunities can translate into a significant boost to the economy and sustainability. There’s no truer adage than: “The youth will inherit the earth!” Therefore, galvanising youthful creativity, talent and zest should be foremost in the collective efforts of the government, the business sector, civil society and youth themselves. The low hanging fruit opportunity to achieve this will be an improved education system. Creating economic value through relevant education is critical to South Africa’s economic growth and to tackle the stubborn unemployment challenges where 74,7% of youth according to Stats SA (2021) are unemployed.
There is strong empirical evidence that youth unemployment shrinks to less than 10% when armed with a quality tertiary education. A report in Business Day
(16 April 2021) mentioned that companies started by the Harvard Business School MBA class of 2009–2011 had to date acquired a combined market capitalisation of $130bn! This excludes the exponential value to the economy through personal and corporate tax, job creation and the spurring of related industries. That so much value could be created by one group of individuals from one business school highlights a number of the key ingredients for economic growth – which include good education, entrepreneurial capability, self-leadership, determination, innovation and an enabling environment.
However, the challenges facing South Africa and indeed the world, are about more than economic growth. Our consumption based economic system and the reification of technology at the expense of the environment and human society places our planet and human survival at risk. So, insofar as we need affordable, accessible and well-resourced education for economic skills, for this to be socially and environmentally impactful, it will have to undergo a significant epistemological shift that transcends a narrow curriculum focus. It should also lay the fundamental building blocks for a productive and meaningful life. The World Economic Forum highlighted the four Cs necessary for the ‘new world’; critical thinking, creativity, communication and collaboration and to this we need to add the UNs Sustainable Development Goals.
Education is so much more than what happens in the classroom. It must be holistic; include extra-curricular activities like sports, hobbies and sustainability-oriented activities but, ultimately, it needs to create new ways of being and of living on the planet. Therefore, ongoing reflection, refining and defining what we teach, how we teach and what we expect the outcomes to be of our teaching, should be normative in our practice as educators.
Improving South Africa's current education system is achievable because a significant portion of its national budget is allocated to education (R396bn according to Minister of Finance Tito Mboweni’s 2020 budget speech). What is lacking is the commitment and innovation from educators and youth to convert this into value.
With global equity markets (including the JSE) showing strong recovery following the global Covid-19 lockdowns there are indications of resilience in our economic systems. More importantly, however, the upwardly ticking indices show a compelling need for value. There is, therefore, no doubt – if we invest in our youth, our dividends will yield value well into the future and the global society will be better for it.