To invest or not to invest in education


Education symbolises more than knowledge and achievements to me. It symbolises the great things I can do in life and the value I can add to social change.

When I was doing my Social Development course, there was a particular module I enjoyed. The module was Economics for Development Studies. When I first heard about it I was sceptical, because I hadn’t done economics in high school. But after the first class I learnt that it was a different kind of economics. In my third class I was introduced to a topic that captured my imagination and opened my mind. The topic was Human Capital Theory, alternatives and education in South Africa.

The theory outlines the decisions an individual leaving school at the age of 18 takes. One of these is whether to invest in education or not. Firstly, why would one consider to invest in education? Isn’t education supposed to be a priority and something you shouldn’t put off? Those were certainly my first thoughts sitting there and listening to the lecture. However, the decision is not that simple, it is based on relative costs and benefits of furthering ones studies.

Let me explain. There are direct and indirect costs to education. The direct costs are those for tuition, books, accommodation and transport etc. The indirect costs is the foregone labour market earnings during the study period. I am one of those individuals who decided to invest in their education when I left school at the age of 18 years. Other school leavers didn’t have this choice to make. They were faced with macro factors that influence the decisions of many young South Africans. These macro factors include having to seek employment and so that they can support their families. They become breadwinners in the household and take up financial responsibilities. Other factors are influenced by educational institutions, where these individuals are rejected for further study when they do not meet the minimum requirements for enrolment. All these factors force some individuals to choose going into the labour market in order to start earning a salary.

The perception of society towards education is that it enables you to a better life. Meaning that once you are educated you start earning a higher salary and stay out of poverty. The idea is to rise above your circumstances, especially in our black communities. We are being raised to study further, get a higher paying job and take care of the family. The idea to start providing for our parents who are going into old age and younger siblings in school. However, young people tend to work towards their own individual life. We constantly choose a better life, that’s outside the townships, living in luxury and forget what the township and our families raised us to do. At the end it is the individual choices we make that are influenced by the many macro factors we are faced with.

Being a graduate grants one access to a job and salary of higher earnings.  The earning capacity of a graduate is many times higher than that of a matriculant who has already been working for a few years. I realised that having invested in my education, I had better opportunities than the person who could not invest in their formal education.

I believe that the youth should be encouraged to invest in their future through educational programmes at schools on better opportunities for furthering ones studies. The government could encourage school leavers on possible (guaranteed) employment after graduation. Companies around South Africa could offer opportunities for part-time jobs for students pursuing a career in those fields. In this way students can further their studies, work to earn a living and gain experience. The idea is for school leavers to further their studies and also earn a living. Well, this is also a choice they could make by themselves. As long as the opportunities are available to them.

Social services and welfare by the state should provide young people with more realistic (compared to nominal) choices after matric. As young people we should terminate the mentality that we need to start making money once we leave school. We need to try and look at the bigger picture. A career is the bigger picture. Being in an academic and social settings where our voices are valued.

That particular seminar on Human Capital Theory and Education made sense to me. And it made me realise I was actually privileged to have been sitting in that honours class. I had made a great investment in my education. An investment I am continuing to make throughout my life.

Caroline Hlekiso is an intern within the Sustained Dialogue Programme at the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation. She holds a BA Honours graduate from the University of the Western Cape in Development studies and calls herself a social scientist in the making.