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Picture: 123RF/PAYLESS
Picture: 123RF/PAYLESS

Last week the Western Cape Education Department, in partnership with Wesgro, launched Edu Invest, a public-private partnership initiative that aims to attract investment into the education sector in the province. 

This is the first time a province has mobilised support from the private sector for our education, and I believe we have the opportunity together to create the kind of investment opportunities that will ultimately improve learning outcomes and expand access to education.

There are four key areas where I see investment in education making a difference in the Western Cape. First, improving learning outcomes for our children, because ultimately they need to leave school with the requisite ability to succeed in their post-school work and education.

Covid-19 and the lost decade 


Our annual systemic tests have given us a clear picture of the devastating effect of the Covid-19 pandemic on the performance of our school pupils, when they were already struggling to pass in some subjects before the pandemic.

To all intents and purposes the pandemic reversed an entire decade of gains made in learning outcomes in our province. Learning losses is a critical problem that we must solve in our education system. 

So we have launched a huge #BackOnTrack programme to improve learning outcomes and give our children a better future in the Western Cape. It is the largest learning recovery programme in the country, targeted to the specific grades and schools that need it most. 

But this alone is not going to do the job. We need to expand our reach beyond our current input level, and I believe there is great potential for investment in education technology (edtech) to improve learning outcomes. We need to find sustainable, scalable interventions that we could support if we want to see positive results in our schools.

Access to education 

The second area where investment is sorely needed is improved access to education in the Western Cape. Every year about 18,000 extra children join our province’s education system. That’s 18 large schools we would need to build every year, just to keep up with growth, before we even begin to address overcrowded classrooms.

So we launched our Rapid School Build programme to deliver new schools and classrooms at a faster rate than before, in the areas of highest demand for placement. In preparation for the 2023 school year we built more than 770 classrooms, an unprecedented rate.

Despite these efforts the reality is our budget is shrinking in real terms, and there are some perilous fiscal waters ahead. We have already had to start postponing projects, given the unprecedented level of uncertainty in the budget.

We cannot meet the demand alone. Yet last year only 5.4% of the pupils in the Western Cape were accommodated in independent schools, compared with 13.7% in Gauteng.

We need more independent schools, and it makes sense for them to be opened here given the changing migration patterns. We are seeing more and more people move to the Western Cape in search of a better future for their children. We specifically need more independent schools, and more public-private partnership schools, that serve low-income communities. 

We are the only province to have collaboration schools – they are no-fee, public institutions run by school operating partners and funded jointly by the Western Cape government and donors.

Our collaboration school donors have contributed to the value of over R325m to our schools to date, a contribution to our education sector that might otherwise not have been made.

We are generally seeing a positive trend in systemic test and matric results at these schools, but this is not the only reason the model is valuable. Pupils at collaboration schools also benefit from access to opportunities made possible by the involvement of operating partners. 

But this is not the only model whereby investors could deliver schooling in partnership with our government, and we want to explore different types of partnerships in pursuit of expanding access to education in the Western Cape.

Education technology 

There is also great potential for edtech solutions to reduce the unit cost of education for our children, meaning that the provision of low-fee education has a market that can provide returns.

Finally, we need to make sure social investment — whether by companies or households — lands in the right place to make a lasting difference for our children. 

We cannot have a situation where a significant social investment is made, with disappointing returns. Or worse: valuable resources that are simply not put to use. That is disappointing for everyone involved, and it discourages other donors from investing in education. 

It’s a particular kind of market failure that we must urgently address. And while it is incredibly valuable to invest in large-scale, standardised projects and programmes across schools, we simply cannot afford to neglect the smaller, more specific-needs schools, or a group of schools. 

As a government we need to get better at signalling to the market exactly what our schools need, and then connecting donors easily to that need. If we can get this right the sheer power of both SA and international goodwill has boundless potential to improve schooling in our province. 

We will know Edu Invest works when we have more support for improving learning outcomes, more independent schools to expand access to education including in low-income communities, a greater variety of public-private partnerships in education, and social investment that lands exactly where our schools and children need it most in the Western Cape. 

• Maynier is Western Cape education MEC. 

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