Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Will "Things" or Will Knowledge and Ideas Fuel South Africa's Growth?

Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Will "Things" or Will Knowledge and Ideas Fuel South Africa's Growth?

Article excerpt

Efforts to increase spending on education beyond traditional levels as a share of gross domestic product (GDP) have been frustrating for many South African educators who view the new government's macroeconomic policies as unnecessarily restrictive. This article examines these policies and analyzes those aspects that seem sound as well as those that are controversial to make the case that education remains a potentially good public investment. It explores ideas that educational and economic authorities hold in common in their calls for greater efficiency in order to start a dialogue, based on mutual recognition of the issues raised, between these authorities.


In mid-1996, the African National Congress (ANC)-led government of South Africa launched its macroeconomic strategy, the GEAR (Growth, Employment and Redistribution) program (Republic of South Africa Department of Finance [RSADF], 1996). For many, particularly the South African Communist Party and trade union allies such as the Council of South African Trade Unions, this was a surprisingly orthodox economic recipe largely in keeping with recommendations offered by organizations such as the World Bank (1994, 1997a), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the mainstream economics profession. The GEAR strategy was not, however, imposed by the World Bank or the IMF but is largely home-grown and staunchly backed by South African economists who support the ANC's long-term aims. Nonetheless, policy implementers in the new bureaucracy view the GEAR's emphasis on fiscal austerity as a threat to the delivery of social services.

At the time of this writing, the ANC is in the middle of one of its most important congresses ever, where many key policy issues are to be debated for the first time since the ANC came to power. It is likely that this congress will fail to close the economic debate and that there will continue to be opposition to the GEAR, even as it, or some modification of it, continues to be official macroeconomic policy. Thus, policy makers and policy implementers will be forced to sort out, on a continuous basis, the relationship between social sector delivery to the poor, who are the electoral backers of the ANC, in the context of a more or less orthodox adjustment package.

The purpose of this article is not to take issue with the GEAR, for the strategy seems essentially sound with respect to its goals, though one might quibble with a few issues and question the speed with which its implementation is proposed. Instead, this article contends that South African education ought to be prioritized as an investment strategy that is consistent with the GEAR and with a context of relative fiscal austerity. It also suggests ways in which the efficiency of some features of the educational system could be improved. This approach could lay the groundwork for a more productive engagement between education and financial authorities.

The title of this article poses the question, "Will things or will knowledge and ideas fuel South Africa's growth?" The answer, of course, is that all three elements must underlie any strategy that is really likely to lead to growth, employment, and redistribution of wealth in the nation. However, current investment and redistribution strategy is a rather "thing-like" strategic deliberation, overemphasizing investment in material goods, and redistribution of a few such goods, with little discussion of how knowledge or ideas will be created and redistributed throughout the educational system.' Even South Africa's educators seem to have taken a thing-like rather than a knowledge- or idea-like approach to educational redress and equity. While emphasizing buildings, teacher qualifications, and so forth, they have placed relatively little emphasis on systemic and classroom management processes that actually lead to children's knowledge acquisition and the redistribution of cognitive skills among the poor. …

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