13 November 2006

Smart, Smarter, Smartest Countries...

I think we all agree that South Africa needs to urgently create jobs, or social stability will suffer. We also know that Government has identified a number of priority sectors to support, in an attempt to boost their output and job creation. These include Manufacturing, ICT, BPO and Tourism.

However, world experience shows that capital does not just look for the cheapest labour; rather, it looks for the most productive labour at the lowest price, and any country hoping to attract long-term investment has to get all 3 factors right. The jobs are going to go to countries with the best-educated workforce, with the most competitive technology infrastructure and an environment that supports creativity. For example, investor Rolls Royce no longer looks at developed, developing and underdeveloped countries - it looks at smart, smarter and smartest countries.

Ireland has started a campaign to double the number of PhD graduates in science and engineering by 2010, India produces 400,000 engineers (and considerably more programmers!) per annum, and China even more. Many of these are educated at the best universities in the world, with huge Government financial support.

When we ally our appalling standard of school education to the converse need to get smarter, quickly, South Africa looks terminally ill, and in serious danger of falling off the economic map. We need a completely new mindset to break the logjam. More kids at more of the same, sad little schools staffed with de-motivated, underpaid and unqualified teachers is not going to do it.

One idea is to use communications technology to spread our good teachers to educate more kids - I bet Bill Smith has generated more maths graduates than any 100 school teachers - and that, without the Internet.

Imagine what could happen if we found a way to use the Internet's social media models to kickstart the knowledge distribution process?

Are there any brave new ideas out there?