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SA’s top business leaders engaged with President Zuma to receive feedback on the National Education Collaboration Trust’s progress in its efforts to urgently and significantly assist government in its efforts to reform education. Discussion also covered the significant level of funding already raised to this end by the private sector which has been matched by government –  and a reminder that their target is R500 million per annum.

At a lunch briefing at the presidential guesthouse in Pretoria on Friday morning, 22 August, Deputy President Jacob Zuma and several cabinet members met with some of Business Leadership South Africa’s [BLSA’s] key players, for feedback and dialogue on the progress of the National Education Collaboration Trust (NECT). The President thanked big business for committing to the Education Collaboration Framework (ECF) and its implementation via the NECT. He also applauded the private-sector funding already pledged to the project – BLSA has agreed to commit 0.004% of their member companies’ market capitalisation annually, over three years, to the first phase of the NECT, rising to 0.008% as the programme rolls out nationally. Government is matching this funding rand for rand. Unions and NGOs are enthusiastically supportive. It’s effectively an educational Codesa.

Zuma stressed that multi-stakeholder engagement was crucial to the NECT’s chances of success – while government is primarily responsible for managing the educational process, he conceded that the NECT, an independent trust managed jointly by a diverse, representative group of trustees was in a good position to give the Department of Education the help it needs to fast track the rehabilitation process.

As a pilot programme to implement Chapter 9 of the National Development Plan (NDP), the aim is undeniably ambitious: to transform South Africa’s basic education system to the point where 90% of learners are achieving pass marks above 50% in language, core mathematics and science. The achievement of these goals will take a collaborative effort across society, which is why the NECT is based on dialogue and consensus between all stakeholders – government, business, teacher unions, NGOs, community, traditional and religious leadership, and parents (through school governing bodies). By collaborating on planning and implementation, each will contribute to overhauling the education environment and the quality of teaching and learning within their own areas of competence toward an agreed plan.

In the meeting it was discussed how these different competencies are already operating in the eight districts – comprising 4 362 schools (18% of the national total) – in which the project is being rolled out first. The ECF identified six discernible themes for action by the NECT: teacher professionalisation, courageous leadership, improving state capacity to deliver quality education, improving school resourcing, parent and community involvement, and learner welfare. By tackling each theme with practical, implementable programmes, and securing the buy-in of teachers, government, business and civil society, the NECT has already proved itself more than a talk-shop.

There was healthy and frank discussion between business and government with the Department of Communication and Mineral Resources being challenged by business to revise their sector charters to recognise the investments being made by the private sector. In addition Zuma called on all the MEC and the Ministers present to come back and report to him about what they have done to support the NECT in practical and tangible ways.

However, Zuma urged the assembled business leaders to continue BLSA’s drive to secure more committed funding. BLSA has set itself and its members a target of R200-R300 million in the initial, three-year phase of the NECT – funding that will be matched by government. It has made an encouraging start, but annual budgeting processes have meant that the process will take at least a year. The fact that the private sector sees government matching its investment in the NECT rand for rand has helped. The NECT is managed and lead by an independent team of educationalists acting as a monitoring and evaluation board, to ensure that spending on interventions and training is as cost-effective as possible. This structure has boosted business confidence in the enterprise.

The bottom line, according to the President, is that fixing South Africa’s basic education system cannot be dismissed as “the government’s problem” by any serious business. This isn’t a case of feel-good gestures or the easing of social consciences – it’s an economic necessity. It is the centrepiece of the NDP. “We cannot grow the economy, or hope to provide economic opportunity to all our citizens, without radical improvement in the quality of education. Funding the NECT may count as corporate social investment, but it is really an investment in long-term business sustainability and economic stability.”

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Copyright: Department of Basic Education 2014