Thoughts on Education

This piece was originally published and featured in the May 2022 edition of SAICA’s Accountancy SA magazine.

Everything is crumbling. Inflation is on the rise. Unemployment is through the roof. LinkedIn insists on sending semi-hourly reminders that someone you may know viewed your profile as if you needed any more anxiety about who may be stalking your spelling errors. 

You may find yourself wondering if this is the end of the world and begin to let out an old well-practiced shrug and associated sigh of resignation, but hold your inhalations for the halcyon days – we may have hit rock-bottom in many regards, but that means the only way forward is up.

 

Sometimes you come upon a quote and it can sink into your subconscious for years, simmering just beneath the surface until a perfect storm of external environmental conditions erupts into an ‘Aha!’ moment. I distinctly remember reading Mandela’s well-known words on education being “the great engine of personal development, through which the daughter of a peasant can become a doctor and the son of mine workers can become the head of the mine” as a young boy in my grandfather’s office.  

 I also remember the moment I finally saw those words lived out, in the midst of the initial 2015 #FeesMustFall protests at Wits University where many NSFAS students articulated their daily struggles in pursuing their degrees along with what it symbolised: a chance at socio-economic mobility previously unattainable just one generation ago. It’s frankly bewildering to see just what young people are willing to do for an education, even when the employment stakes are stark post-graduation, bringing to mind the Robert Browning line ‘But a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?’

 

Much closer to home for most of us are the awe-inspiring stories from the Thuthuka Fund and other sponsored students, where CAs that once grew up in townships are now pioneers of innovative solutions, raise capital for the next generation of South African start-ups and sit on the boards of multinational corporations. Is there any other profession that so vividly encapsulates the South African dream?

In that vein, Accountancy often gets poorly represented as some kind of cardboard cube: sturdy, stolid and made of squares. Instead I firmly believe we have a discipline that demands out-of-the-box thinking whilst integrating globally into every industry. Debits and credits are the bedrock of any business whether you’re in Cape Town or Kathmandu or living in the year 2100 or 1652. Internally-developed AI software for streamlining may soon be all the rage but will still need to be tested annually for impairment and somebody will need to take care of transfer pricing once we start receiving exports from Mars – it’s clear that CAs are here to stay.

 

Everything is still crumbling, however, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed. The obstacles are immense and the apocalypse is irresistible. Yet, each year new SAICA members and graduates from a myriad of professions take the stage as scions of their own destiny, shooting upwards to yet unreached heights for both themselves and South Africa in a lifelong journey of critical learning – and that is something to celebrate.

 

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