In January, Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa stated that the success of any nation lies in education. He noted that skills shortages were straining economic growth, and education was the only solution to this problem. He said education enterprises relied on committed educators; that students needed to take education more seriously; and that businesses needed to improve and upgrade South African educational programmes.

Although I felt there was conspicuously little said on where government would be stepping up, Ramaphosa had a point concerning businesses stepping up when it comes to investing in education. These children are the future of not only our country and economy, but our businesses as well.

There are businesses who get involved through bursaries, investments, donations or CSI initiatives, but we tend to focus on higher education institutions like universities. I believe we should be focusing on where education begins: at the foundation and intermediary phases.

According to the most recent national census (2011), 8,6% of our population over 20 hasn’t completed any schooling. Let that sit with you for a few minutes – just under 3 million South Africans have no schooling … How does that happen?

We have schools with no running water or desks or books; where one teacher is trying to educate children from Grade R to Grade 10 in one classroom. When children in Grade R are expelled for poor behaviour, this is known and understood to be due to a terrible home life, but such behaviour cannot be ignored when it affects dozens of children from a similar background who are trying to learn. What happens to these children? Do they slip through the cracks and become one of the 3 million?

There should be fail-safes in place; one class per school in high-risk areas with a teacher trained to deal with children that might need more from the system because of their circumstances. Heaven knows, with 3 million uneducated people, there seems to be an obvious need for something more than is on offer now.

Businesses should be working together towards this, fund the teachers and their training, provide the books, desks and technology. This is where we can make the biggest impact – we need to focus on providing for and educating the youngest of our children, those that need us the most, to ensure they don’t become one of the 8,6%. Education doesn’t start at university.

Author: Kevin Phillips CA(SA) is Managing Director of idu Software