Picture: 123RF/HASLOO
Picture: 123RF/HASLOO

A top EU official is very concerned about the mismatch between SA’s education system and the skills required for the job market.

Stefano Manservisi, director-general of the European Commission’s directorate for international co-operation and development, says the country must take steps to bridge the skills gap — the difference between the skills required and those employees have attained.

He was in SA for the fifth SA-Italy summit aimed at expanding the business and investment relationships between the countries.

Quality education will set SA and other African countries on a sustainable growth trajectory, Manservisi says. Such growth, however, may remain a fanciful hope if the quality of education is poor.

The World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Global information technology report 2016, that examines the increasing proliferation of technology and its effects on advancing global prosperity, ranked SA 137th out of 139 countries for the overall quality of its education system. It placed the quality of SA’s maths and science education last out of the 139 countries.

In its Global competitiveness report for 2017/18, WEF placed SA’s quality of the education system at 114 out of 137 countries, while the quality of maths and science education was ranked 128.

The deficient education outcomes do not bode well for economic growth and job creation in SA.  They also cast doubt on whether the goals of the National Development Plan that envisage an education system characterised by innovation that links key public institutions with key sectors of the economy by 2030, can be attained.

It also hampers the country’s ability to foster strategic partnerships with trade partners such as the EU. Manservisi says the EU’s directorate for international co-operation and development’s investment approach entails forging alliances with African countries. The intention, he says, is to reshape the nature of trade relations between the EU and African countries away from a donor-beneficiary one.

The EU is the largest exporter to Southern Africa, with the value of the union’s exports at R1.2-trillion. “This value is almost twice that of the US, the United Arab Emirates and India combined, and is 15% more than the Chinese one. The EU is today the major partner of Africa for growth of the region, with total [foreign direct investments] stock in the continent totalling €302bn, more than double US investments and eight times that of China,” says Valerio De Molli, CEO of European House Ambrosetti, a professional consulting group that organised the summit.

Relations between SA and the EU are governed by the Trade, Development and Cooperation Agreement of 1999. It established a free trade area that covers 90% of bilateral trade between the EU and SA.

According to the EU’s Directorate for International Co-operation and Development, the union’s bilateral co-operation with SA, which runs from 2014  to 2020, focuses on employment creation, education, training and innovation. The total EU allocation over this period is €268m.  

Key projects under the bilateral co-operation include the Primary Education Sector Policy Support Programme, which supports the government’s objective to expand the provision of early childhood development opportunities, to improve curriculum implementation in schools, and to strengthen the initial training of teachers in SA. This has led to an increase in the number of universities training teachers for early grades and the number of students enrolled in such programmes.