Promoting Education


On average, 6% of South Africa’s GDP is spent on public education (roughly R245 billion). Despite high education expenditure, the primary education system in South Africa has been ranked 126th out of 138 countries in the World Economic Forum 2017 Global Competitiveness Report. South Africa lags in terms of good educational outcomes compared to other SADC countries that spend much less on public education.

The schooling system in South Africa is marred by inequality, with about 20% of schools being classified as wealthy schools and 80% as poor schools. The resources that both category of schools have access to are incomparable, meaning that low resourced schools are significantly impacted compared to well-resourced schools. 

After numerous policy changes and the stop-and-start implementation of various models, South Africa’s education system required reengineering. According to Basic Education minister Angie Motshekga the new emphasis is on re-engineering the sector to be more responsive to the needs of learners, adopt digital innovation and building the service delivery ecosystem for better quality and value in the basic education sector. 

The COVID-19 pandemic is taking a heavy toll on children and youth all over the world in terms of education. School closures, lockdown, and psychological distress will have serious consequences on their futures and well-being, as well as on those of their educators and families. Governments need to secure quality education for all and make sure that the most vulnerable are not left behind, and this is a major challenge in this crisis.

Our Approach to Promoting Education

The Thabo Mbeki Foundation is dedicated to leveraging its convening power and influence to convene both public and non-public stakeholders to create outsized impact on Africa and its education systems.

Our Current Initiatives


In its quest to further the ideals of access to quality education to all learners, the Thabo Mbeki Foundation has partnered with Telefonica Foundation and La Caixa Foundation to roll-out their Profuturo programme in South Africa. Profuturo is one of the largest digital education programmes in the world promoted by the Telefonica Foundation and the La Caixa Bank. It is designed to promote education and innovation. 

ProFuturo is a digital education programme launched to narrow the education gap in the world by improving the quality of education for children in Africa, Latin America, Middle East, and Asia. ProFuturo helps educators and learners develop 21st century skills by leveraging technology and innovation, collaborating with education stakeholders, and bringing its expertise to provide quality digital education in online and offline vulnerable contexts.  

The Thabo Mbeki Foundation, ProFuturo and the Department of Basic Education have embarked on a project that intends to leverage technology to close the educational gap that exists between rural and urban schools. We have identified, selected, and engaged 50 schools, in the Eastern Cape and Mpumalanga, that are serving as pilot sites for using technology to deploy innovative digital teaching-learning experiences to enhance the development of digital skills that enable educators, learners and school principals to meet the challenges of the 21st Century. 

The project which began in the Eastern Cape and Mpumalanga in 2019 has so far equipped 25 primary schools in each province, serving 23 337 learners with technology to use in classroom lessons. A total of 244 teaching staff have been taken through professional development and digital training sessions by 7 coaches. 

The intention is to work collaboratively with the Department of Basic Education and other partners to transform these and other schools into beacons of excellence that will improve the education of millions of children through technology, becoming a global reference for transformation and innovation in education.

Education in the Age of the 21st Century

In 2019, the Thabo Mbeki Foundation formed a multi-stakeholder Working Group to build a vision, strategic framework and action plan to prepare Africa and its education systems for the 21st century. The Working Group is comprised of educators, academics, civil society, business, policymakers and thought leaders, and will aim to tackle the complex question of what practical steps South Africa needs to take in order to lay the foundation for a successful transition through the 4IR. The Working Group’s final report, released in September 219, includes ambitious, but achievable goals and initiatives to realise the vision. The development and operationalisation of these goals and initiatives is a key focus of the Thabo Mbeki Foundation.

Key Priorities for Improvement

There are numerous challenges facing education on the African continent, particularly with regards to adapting to the 21st century and the 4IR. The preceding sections honed in on the views and opinions of various education stakeholders surrounding 4IR in the African context, highlighting the enabling and obstructive factors that contribute to or hinder 21st century education. From the extensive research  conducted, the following key priority areas should underpin the efforts of governments and other stakeholders in advancing 21st century education in Africa: 

Priority 1

Improving the quality of education – Our research has confirmed that the majority of students in many African countries do not have access to quality education as a result of inadequate infrastructure, poor quality of teachers, untrained teachers, or rudimentary learning materials. Governments have to prioritise improving the quality of basic education to adequately prepare learners for the 21st century.

Priority 2

Addressing socio-economic inequality – Inequality remains one of Africa’s greatest problems. It can be recognised along gender lines, geography (rural vs. urban) and socio-economic status, among others. Due to unequal resource allocation and opportunities, millions across the African continent are not in a position to benefit from or contribute to the 4IR. This is a missed opportunity because people who are economically or socially active are less of a burden on welfare services and offer the potential for socio-economic development.

Priority 3

Toward an Afrocentric, Pan African curriculum – A legacy of colonialism continues to cast aside traditional African ways of living, learning and being. There has never been a sustained effort to celebrate and highlight indigenous knowledge and culture. If traditional African values and systems are not considered in the adoption of 4IR, policy and programmes, uptake, perpetuation and sustainability of the 4IR are unlikely to take place.

Priority 4

Providing an enabling environment – For the 4IR to become a way of life, policy and practice have to put it at the forefront. Currently, the 4IR is not as integrated as it should be in policy and implementation. The policy landscape is complex, with many actors who represent different interests and agendas. To successfully navigate the process of infusing the 4IR into education and related policies, attention should be paid to political wills and appetites.

Priority 5

Developing and improving infrastructure – Without the correct infrastructure in place, it will be challenging for the 4IR to be realised. Infrastructure includes basics such as electricity, and 4IR-specifics, such as broadband and mobile phone towers. Infrastructure in Africa represents one of the areas that receives the most capital investment, particularly from foreign aid. Attention should be paid to how and where this money is spent, to maximise the positive effects on the adoption of the 4IR.

Priority 6

Making financial provisions for a 4IR education – In developing countries, education spending lags behind that of developed countries. Without sufficient investment into 4IR, the chances of it becoming a way of life in Africa are slim. Although many African countries are on par with the Global North in terms of education spending as a percentage of GDP, the resultant spending is not adequate enough to address education’s developmental needs. Ensuring that Africa joins the 4IR in education and other spheres will require significant upfront and ongoing spending

Priority 7

Strengthening systems of governance – Ensuring that African countries align with 4IR needs and demands requires an integrated governance approach. This approach should be considered at the levels of continental bodies such as the African Union and SADC, national bodies like ministries and agencies, provincial bodies or governments, municipalities, districts, and wards. Governance activities related to the 4IR should include policy making, monitoring and evaluating policy implementation, research, and knowledge sharing.

Priority 8

Equipping learners with skills for the 4IR – The world is changing at a breathless pace and students are expected to be able to adapt and evolve. 4IR-ready skills do not stop at digital literacies: creativity, critical-thinking, collaboration, communication, citizenship and character development are all essential in the 21st century. By embedding relevant pedagogies into teacher training and curricula, education systems will harmonise with the 4IR.

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“It is not given to every generation that it should be present during and participate in the act of creation. I believe that ours is privileged to occupy such historic space.”  

– President Thabo Mbeki