As the terrible neglect and damage caused by the apartheid education system gradually starts to subside, we are seeing the manifestation of the natural, real intelligence and capacity of South Africa’s people.
For far too long we’ve confused education with intelligence in South Africa. We have assumed education equals intelligence which, of course, is not true.
There are a lot of highly intelligent people in South Africa who weren’t educated properly, but who, now that they’re increasingly receiving the right education, are thriving.
The upshot is the emergence of a confident, capable group of people who are far more representative of the broader population than in days gone by when their talent was submerged and their confidence eroded.
This year at Henley Business School, we’ve observed two interesting developments. The first is an improvement in the quality of applicants across the board, in terms of their experience, qualifications, the standard of their written applications, their eloquence, numeracy and general business acumen.
Secondly, and within that, we’re seeing a steady increase in the number of black applicants as well as coloured and Indian people. We have about 15% more black applicants than last year and all of a high standard.
At 60% we’re still not demographically representative, but if you compare that figure to when I started teaching the MBA in South Africa in 1995, when about just 10% of the class was black people, it’s clear we’ve come a long way.
What we’re starting to see now is a real emergence of capable, confident, articulate and talented people coming into the marketplace who can hold their own anywhere in the world.
In fact, the international lecturers on our MBA – who teach in the UK, Germany, the US, Scandinavia and Asia – have remarked that of all the classes they teach around the world, they find the South African one the most intellectually stimulating.
As lecturers, they’re constantly kept on their toes by the way our students are engaged, the quality of their inquiries, and their questioning of assumptions.
Despite all the pessimism around the country’s education system, feedback like this, albeit anecdotal, should give us cause to be optimistic about the depth of talent we have in South Africa.
South Africa is known for its mineral resources. Our most important resource is our human talent, though. This is the future of the country and of our children. So what should we do about it? Our situation could be likened to a mining company that digs up minerals without beneficiating them.
Our responsibility now is not only to unearth but also to nurture that talent….. nurture it by using our keen intellects, our creativity and our good organisational skills.
And above all to nurture it with an activist passion, in the understanding that now is the time to make this happen, not tomorrow, and that there is no-one else to do this, just us.