Photo By Zandamela.
This exclusive GBC-Education blog series, In Their Own Words: Youth Speak Out for Education Investment, highlights the unique relationship between private sector investments in education and youth, the very population that they’re seeking to impact. In the series, A World at School Global Youth Ambassadors scattered across the globe talk about the work they’re doing with businesses to help improve education in their communities. Follow this series to learn about the different ways businesses can engage youth to better their contribution to education.
Johannesburg, South Africa
WHY SHE THINKS BUSINESS SHOULD ENGAGE YOUTH:
“Because if they want to invest in education, they want to make an investment in such a way that it will impact the problem at the source.”
In South Africa, only 39 percent* of schools have access to computers. Of those that do, a mere 26 percent of schools actually use computers to enhance classroom learning. Vuyelwa Zandamela, a South African Global Youth Ambassador for A World at School, knew that increasing local school children’s access to technology would boost their learning experience incredibly — she just wasn’t sure exactly how (or who) could make the introduction.
Having grown up in Johannesburg, Zandamela was lucky enough to attend private school and avoid challenges like absent teachers, and worse, lacking sanitation facilities that forced other school children to miss school regularly. She knew stories like her mother’s — a girl born into poverty in rural Swaziland, forced to walk great lengths without proper shoes to get to school — were not uncommon, even today. Motivated by these barriers that students surrounding her faced everyday, Zandamela enrolled in Monash University to study Business Management and International Relations when opportunity presented itself to advocate for children’s right to education, both in South Africa and abroad, she jumped.
So, with the help other local Global Youth Ambassadors, Zandamela organized a Town Hall event with a few of the biggest education stakeholders in Africa to confront these community-specific education issues. Together, they were able to brainstorm the most effective solutions alongside business leaders ranging from the founder of the locally-based nonprofit Katleho Pele Education to the multinational technology corporation and GBC-Education member, Microsoft.
During their conversation, Zandamela learned from Microsoft Chief of Technology Officer Warren Hero and Microsoft South Africa Education Sector Lead Claudia Johnston that Microsoft was also keen on delivering technology to local schools, though at first their goal was simply to increase learning materials through computers.
“When these companies want to help, it’s very important for them to address the problem at the source,” said Zandamela. She’s right: Last year, in an attempt to increase school performance, the local government campaigned to increase the number of textbooks within schools. However, due to political unrest, teachers stopped showing up to teach and children were not learning enough to pass their exams.
“Even if the teacher was the only one with the textbook, at least they could continue with their curriculum,” Zandamela said. Had the government consulted local community members, they may have learned that even though textbooks may have been the easier education investment to quantify and deliver, without addressing the deeper political issue, their contribution would render meaningless.
Once Hero and Johnston explored the possibilities of investing in education technology more deeply with Zandamela and the other youth present, they discovered that in reality, the disconnection between school lessons and the home is a more disruptive barrier to their educations than the lack of technology itself.
“Parents are not engaged in the way that [their kids] are learning,” said Zandamela. “So their parents don’t actually know much about what they are doing at school.” However, according to a study by the Southwest Educational Development Laboratory, students with involved parents tend to earn higher grades, attend school regularly, graduate and enter college, and be promoted.
They concluded that Microsoft’s most impactful contribution, then, would be to use technology to create an interactive program in which the parents, students, and teachers could all engage to bridge the divide between the home and the classroom.
“If [businesses] want to address the problem directly from where it’s coming from, it’s important that they find out what’s going on from the people dealing with the problem,” Zandamela said. “From consulting with people — you know, with youth — they find out what the actual problem is.”
With the guidance of local youth who’ve spent their entire lives within these communities and understand that teachers may sometimes be harder to come by than textbooks and that, sometimes, the difference between a child finishing primary school and dropping out might be the support system reinforcing the lesson and not the curriculum itself, these business leaders were able to identify the best education investments rather than the most flashy or the most sweeping.
**Angathevar Baskaran and Mammo Muchie. (2006). Bridging the Digital Divide. Adonis & Abbey Publishers Ltd. Pg 202.