For the third year in a row, 2016 saw South Africa ranked last in the World Economic Forum's global assessment of the quality of mathematics and science education. The country also came a dire 137th out of 139 countries in the WEF's ratings of the overall quality of education systems around the world.
Not surprisingly, the international news publication, The Economist, recently derided South African schools as among the most inept in the world. With such damning statistics confirming that the quality of our maths and science education is worse than that of Nigeria, Mozambique and Malawi, it's time to ask tough questions and propose serious solutions.
While some people criticise the idea of private schooling, the current system is obviously failing the learners and fresh alternatives are needed. That means providing education at a cost that is affordable to the many, not an elite few.
It was with this in mind that we founded SPARK Schools. We are a South African chain of high-quality, low-cost schools created to meet a desperate need in the market. SPARK Schools services parents who might not be satisfied with the current education offering (both private and government), but are unable to place their children in elite private schools. Our annual fees are approximately equivalent to government's total cost to educate at a national level proving that world-class education can be delivered at an affordable rate if the right systems are in place.
The school prioritises producing emotionally mature students growing up in an inclusive environment where there is respect for different races, cultures and economic circumstances. This is done through a variety of teaching methods which empower learners to develop their creative and practical thinking, with classroom sessions, personalized learning and collaboration in small groups, again fostering mutual respect.
The overall vision is to produce children that are real-world ready, with globally recognised academic qualifications, and a personal maturity and healthy attitude to equality for all.
Based in transition zones between previously disadvantaged areas and affluent areas, the aim of this model of schools is to create a catchment space that bridges the traditional financial and racial boundaries. With low fees in terms of middle class and working class incomes, and well below the rates charged by most private education options.
The result is a demographic mix in the classroom that closely resembles the country at large –- ideal in a country where colour or class segregation has damaged society for too long. This inclusivity is crucial at a time when the radical transformation of potentially elite institutes like private schools is on the agenda.
The overall vision is to produce children that are real-world ready, with globally recognised academic qualifications, and a personal maturity and healthy attitude to equality for all. Private sector schools challenge the status quo. They are an essential part of the solution to the challenges our communities are facing.
Our schools are here to deliver the highest quality education to South African communities at the lowest possible price, with an individually-tailored curriculum that empowers learners to become the future shapers of society.
Low-cost private sector schools could be the answer that South Africa's education sector needs for radical transformation.
Stacey Brewer is the Co-Founder and CEO of SPARK Schools