Mxolisi Ka Nkomonde says South Africa’s basic education is controlled by corporations that benefited from apartheid and questions their motives. You can find him on Twitter @MxolisiBob
There has been a wave of mixed reaction to the recent matriculation results from various sectors. The national pass rate for 2016 was 72.5%, with Free State taking over from Western Cape as South Africa’s best performing province by achieving a pass rate of 88.2% and the latter 85.9%.
The country has celebrated these results with much fanfare while certain quarters have questioned them with the Democratic Alliance(DA) leading the charge in what could be described as sour grapes from losing the top spot. The Western Cape has been the best performing province ever since the DA took power.
As much as it is great to celebrate these results, its also important to look into the basic education system itself. As things stand currently, of the 10 children who enrol in grade 1 in any given year, only five of them reach matric, three pass, and at most, only one will pass mathematics with 50%.
Who controls South Africa’s basic education?
South African education has for centuries been controlled by the state with a few private schools which controlled themselves. Matriculation was under the Joint Examination Board from 1918 to 1989 but this changed when private schools established the Independent Examination Board (IEB)  which regulates private schools. The issue of private education evokes an intense and controversial debate which raises issues of exclusivity and elitism. The IEB regulates the education of children of upper middle class and wealthy whites with a few Blacks who can afford private education under Apartheid.
In 1992 the Joint Education Trust now called JET Education Services(JET) was setup as a non-governmental grganisation (NGO) with the sole purpose of “reforming” the public education system. The founders of JET include Anglo American, First National Bank (now First Rand), Sanlam, Gencor (now BHP Billiton) and other corporations which benefited greatly from Apartheid’s ‘slave labour’ policies largely driven by Native Education later Bantu Education after 1953.
Some of the partners in JET include African National Congress (ANC), Pan Africanist Congress (PAC), Inkatha Freedom Party and Azanian Peoples Organisation (AZAPO) together with labour formations including the South African Democratic Teachers Union (SADTU) and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) .
JET had little influence on South Africa’s public education until 1996 when the education budget was reduced significantly leading to closures of technical collages, teachers colleges, nursing colleges and the merging of higher education institutions for “efficiency”.
NGOs and private companies took over the education system through outsourcing and partnerships since the state had little resources in building internal capacity for curriculum development, teacher training and efficient administration.
The main input in any education system is the curriculum since it influences both the teacher and the learner hence it can be described as the genome of education. Effectively, whoever drives the curriculum controls the minds of learners and teachers and the society at large. The weakening of state capacity in developing curriculum and teacher training in South Africa has led to a situation where multinational companies such as Pearson run the education system through outsourcing and textbook publishing – which was its main business until recently when it added “education services” as part of its services to different governments including SA’s Department of Basic Education .
Countries such as the United States of America  and United Kingdom have raised the alarm over this phenomenon of companies like Pearson, running their education systems through the outsourcing of critical state functions.
Statistics South Africa’s latest report on unemployment in September states that youth unemployment is 65.6% and the question that must be asked is why young people arent finding ways of utilising the collaboration between government, multinationals such as Pearson and NGOs such as JET, which is funded by major corporations in SA, to gain employment?
Why are the biggest beneficiaries of Apartheid heavily involved in the public education system? Is there a deliberate dumbing-down of the education of Black children who are heavily dependent on public education as a way of creating a pool of low skilled workers who can be paid low wages? Why are parents not worried about corporate influence on public education?
 Report on the National Review of Academic and Professional Programmes in Education,August
2010,Council on Higher Education,Page (9 to 14)
 https://www.theguardian.com/education/2012/jul/16/pearson-multinational-influence-education policy