Small tweaks to transform SA’s dysfunctional basic education system – Mansfield

CAPE TOWN — This analysis of our education crisis, with pragmatic solutions, had me nodding my head all the way through. While I’m no education fundi, my life experience and adaptation late in life to the fourth industrial revolution, are enough to hear the warning bells retired local government leader and entrepreneur Peter Mansfield is ringing. Fast forwarding our education system to fit in with today’s world is critical if South Africa is to take full advantage of the huge potential that will accrue from slowly turning the economic ship around. Mansfield eloquently outlines what’s wrong with our outdated, rote-learning, sausage-machine, basic education system and tells us what every soft skills development coach so popular in the corporate world, takes for granted. Why are these coaches doing so well? Because there’s a dire need – created by our still-outdated early education systemWe’re teaching our kids the wrong stuff; while they still need maths, stats, language and computer science, experiential learning about topics appropriate to the fast-evolving technological world will equip them far more potently than rote learning. Relationship skills in this new global world where language and accessibility barriers have vanished, also give them the edge because trust and integrity are the foundations of all transactions. As we’ve so dearly learnt over the past decade… – Chris Bateman

By Peter Mansfield*

The matric results are out. Educational and government spokesmen are blowing their own cracked trumpets and opposition parties are criticising the cracks in the trumpets.

Government and opposition alike are focussing on a long outdated educational system. Very few are asking: are we teaching the skills (at schools and universities) our children and grandchildren are going to need to survive and thrive in the decades ahead?

Overall, the government is spending more money on pushing more learners/students through a broken educational sausage machine, teaching them facts instead of the skills they are going to need. This may be good populist politics, but it is terrible for the victims (learners) and their futures.

Hey, it’s the 21st Century!

Has nobody noticed that this is the 21st Century? That we are speeding faster and faster into the Fourth Industrial Revolution? Into a world of AI (artificial intelligence), and cleverer and cleverer robotics. Change is taking place at an unprecedented pace, yet educational systems (worldwide but especially in SA) carry on in the same old way, decade after decade.

In a world where all information is available at a click or two on an internet-connected device, teaching facts by rote learning is absurd. Any South African under the age of 50 with a smartphone can get all the information/facts they need from Google (within minutes). They don’t need to remember such stuff, they need to learn skills.

Mobile phone leapfrog

Interestingly, we and most of Africa leapfrogged ahead of much the world when it came to mobile phone usage. Most of our current cellphone users never had a landline and never will. We need to do the same in the use of AI and robotics.

We need to be teaching skills for this new world. Most of the learning needs to do done by doing, not listening and repeating. Learning for the future needs to consist of acquiring a few ‘hard skills’ and numerous soft skills.

Hard skills such as maths, statistics, language (reading, real comprehension and writing) and computer science will remain essential.

What are these soft, ‘how to skills?

Relationship skills

Learning to listen with real attention and understanding, networking, communication, relationship-building, learning to draw boundaries, negotiation, team-building and more. In other words, learning to cooperate, team-build and team-work with fellow humans all over the world (instant translation will solve language issues).

Critical thinking skills

The ability to separate fact from fiction, genuine news from fake news, and the ability to reach one’s own conclusions. Learning to think for oneself and not simply parrot the thoughts of others. Vox populi, vox Dei, The “Voice of the People is the Voice of the Gods” is a lie.  Being a minority of one is not a sin. Some of the world’s most famous people were a minority of one, at some time or another.


How to make the best use of the rapidly improving technology, How to creatively apply and combine new technologies. How to apply soft skills to these technologies. Ultimately it is about helping young minds to come up with new ideas and new ways of doing things, especially in applying and adapting/modifying new technologies to the conditions on the ground in South Africa and Africa as a whole.

Mostly, it is about ‘teaching’ that results in learners who can think for themselves and cooperate with others.


Cooperation and teamwork cannot really occur without ethical behaviour. People work with people they trust. People avoid or refuse to work with people they don’t trust.

Money matters
To my mind, one of the biggest problems faced by most countries in Africa is widespread economic illiteracy. Most people simply don’t understand money at a personal level, or at the level of public finance.

Simple stuff like the dangers of credit, budgeting,  how to save, how to invest, how to make provision for the future. Setting priorities, making choices.

At a macro level, it is impossible to have a national conversation about taxation, VAT. the national debt, interest, expenditure priorities, taxation and expenditure limitations etc unless much of the population (especially politicians at all levels of government) have at least SOME idea of what the conversation is about.

A few final thoughts:

  • Educational authorities (at all levels) should regularly consult with business and the world of technology seeking to establish what skills are going to be needed in the future.
  • No free education for all. Free education for those who are gaining employable skills
  • Double salaries for those who are good at teaching the necessary skills
  • Pension off the teachers who cannot cope with the new reality
  • 5 GB of free data for all under the age of 25 (so they can access information)
  • Teacher unions barred from schools during school hours

We are competing with every country in the world. We need to work together and get our education systems right, fast. Or we will get ourselves left further and further behind. And our children and grandchildren will suffer the consequences.

In the same way that we need a CODESA on the economy and jobs, we need a CODESA  on education at all levels. South Africa has three national emergencies: corruption (up to the justice system), the economy and jobs, and education.  All three are inexorably interrelated.

  • Peter Mansfield is a retired local government leader and entrepreneur. Follow his blog at
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