By Margaux Narbey, Institute for Cultural Diplomacy.
A little bit more than 10 years after the end of the Apartheid, South Africa has positioned itself not only as the « rainbow nation » but also as one of the leading economies in Africa. In these times of crisis, South Africa has held steady in the face of such global economic uncertainty and is meeting its economic challenges head on. South Africa is especially recognized has having solid fundamentals and sound and effective financial systems.
Then, we might ask ourselves how the country has been doing regarding education. Indeed, education has been a great challenge for most of the African countries and we are very often reminded that sustainable development and growth can only be maintained with qualified workers. Regarding this matter, South Africa has quite a good school rate that averages 87%. However, if we take a closer look at these numbers, we might find out that 65% of white South Africans have a high school diploma against about 15% of black South African. It has to be said that progress has been made over the past few years. The Student Sponsorship Program is a good example of an original initiative to help South African people from a poor background to have access to the best private schools in the country.
“Student Sponsorship Program (SSP) is well into its second decade of identifying high potential young people from disadvantaged backgrounds and circumstances and affording them the opportunity to realize that potential in educational centers of excellence during their senior school years”, Executive director, Jenny Ketley explains.
In addition to the quality education provided by the partner schools, SSP supports its students by assigning a Student Program Officer and finding a corporate mentor for each student as well as running parallel programs focusing on leadership development, study skills or career guidance and assistance. Jenny Ketley adds: “By means of the ongoing support of our partners, we believe that we are indeed developing leaders for a better, stronger South Africa”.
SSP (http://www.ssp.org.za) was launched 10 years ago by two Harvard Business School Graduates living in Johannesburg and from then on, has engaged itself to change the reality of schooling in South Africa. Though their initial goals were modest- to mentor a few black high school students- a decades later, they have raised more than $10 millions, most of it in South Africa to educate more than 600 low-income black students in the most elite white private boarding schools. About 90% of the students qualify to attend university. Over the years SSP has been met with great enthusiasm and success and the directors came to realize that private school sector was actually seeking solutions for their integration needs “in the new South Africa” (Teresa Clarke, SSP).
This whole program permits to raise awareness on the situation of public schooling in South Africa. Though significant steps have been taken, co-founder Nyagaka Ongeri says: “It remains heart-wrenching and eye-opening, 10 years later, to see how dramatically the public education system in South Africa has failed its students and parents”.
But this initiative should not stagnate at this point. We are presenting the program as a success because it permits young black South African to have access to the best schools of the country and maybe at the end to significantly change the school system in South Africa. Indeed, today, some of the first graduates are playing an important role in the South African economy and are best entitled to know the importance of a full access to higher education for the development of the whole country. There is no need here to reassess the importance of a free and effective public school system, which would then permit every student to have access to university. In that sense, the SSP is a good initiative because it provides leaders who, with their background, are fully aware of the importance of having a better public school system. A public school system in which students would be carefully monitored, with good infrastructures, proper material, an effective use of new technologies and qualified teachers, along other things.
These are good news for South Africa, a BRICS country that like all, must work hard to sustain this status.
Center for Cultural Diplomacy Studies Publication