Opinionista Munozovepi Gwata 24 May 2018

Taught to Fail: Economic Transformation starts in the classroom

If the status quo is not challenged in what is taught in class, things become stagnant or worse, they decline. We need to teach children how to think differently. We need to bring students up to speed, expose them to new ideas and innovations.

The classroom, this is where everything begins. The way we think, our prejudices and our perceptions of the world are largely shaped by our classroom experiences. Teachers have a great burden that we never discuss, and that is the responsibility to shape our future through the thousands of pupils that come across them. Unfortunately, they are not being well equipped for this responsibility and as a result we are preparing our kids for failure. What do I mean by this? The education system is preparing our kids for a world that will not exist 10, 20 years from now, and if we keep on enforcing an outdated education system it will not only be to the detriment of our children, but also to our economy.

Growing up I remember very well being taught the maths and sciences were the most important subjects in the world, and if I wasn’t any good at either, my future would be rather grim. Upon matriculation I was given four and only four career paths to choose from law, engineering, accounting or you guessed it, medicine. I am sure many people can relate. Quite frankly, I cannot really blame my teachers, because for a long time this was the clear path way to success. Anything else was unheard of, until now, when it is becoming more and more apparent that the traditional schooling system is grossly failing its students.

With developments like artificial intelligence, block chain technology , and the whole digital revolution, where you can now have a career as a YouTuber and have anything delivered to our door, why aren’t we teaching kids how to think differently? The maths and the science is great, but we need a huge injection of creativity and innovation in the school systems, and we need to create an environment that facilitates and encourages students to think differently. We need to challenge students from a young age to “think differently” as Apple Inc would have it, and rightfully so they are the richest company in the world for this very reason. They think differently. We will create a dangerous trap for ourselves if we do not reform the education system. A lot of the career paths that we believed were rock solid paths to success are well on their way to being automated by computer software or by machines. For example there are endless amounts of accounting software business owners can download for free or subscribe to at very minimal fees. Legal tech and Biotech are new emerging and fast growing industries transforming the field of law and medicine.

What people do not understand is that technology isn’t threatening jobs, but instead offers opportunities – however only to those who have been taught to use them. What transpires in our education systems trickles down into our economy. It is not a coincidence that South Africa has a relatively conservative business culture and innovation isn’t necessarily openly invited. This is most evident in how our venture capitalist system is set up differently to that of the West, young people are often told this isn’t “silicon valley”. Subsequently we find our talented individuals seeking opportunities overseas, depriving us of their great innovations.

To make matters worse instead of trying to address the problem this cycle is further preserved by the government. A good example of this would be the fact that in most parts of the world which are reasonably comparable to South Africa, such as America, the UK, it is not uncommon to find that there are self-serving cashier systems (point of sales). There is no teller who does the transactions on the behalf of the company and the client. It would be unlikely for such a system to be accepted in South Africa. This is mainly because our labour laws and trade unions are not flexible when it comes to such introduction which appears to threaten the jobs of tellers, regardless of the economic benefits of such a system. This was highlighted when Pick n Pay tried to test self serving teller systems.

It is clear that such objections to innovation are not working with the rate of unemployment only increasing. This is because we aren’t growing the economy. A comparable analogy would be, we are running a business that sells record players, because the record players did well 40 years ago, and we continue to sell them ignoring the fact that there are now iPods and iPads that are more convenient and do a better job at playing music. If the status quo is not challenged, things become stagnant or worse, they decline. Undoubtedly we have a unique history, that contributes to the economic dichotomy that we have going on in South Africa, but that does not steer away from the fact that if we continue to not prepare students for a world that is drastically changing, we are doing a huge disservice to them and ourselves. The way to solve the problem is to transform our schooling systems. We need to bring students up to speed, expose them to new ideas, discuss case studies of companies like Amazon and Uber who have redefined what a business looks like, we need to stimulate the minds and promote a spirit of entrepreneurship among students. An entrepreneurial mindset encompasses the spirit of innovative thinking, problem solving and best of all job creation. These are the necessary components needed to create economic growth, which is the only path for economic transformation. DM

Munozovepi Gwata is the CEO and founder of Kukura Capital. She also co-authored a children’s financial literacy book, The Rich Life of Thabo.

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