Entrepreneurial innovation is key to improving the local education sector

Ryan Harrison and StaceyBrewer
The South African education sector has been thrust into the spotlight in recent months, eliciting many questions, debates and varying opinions about the current state of the education sector within the country and the potential solutions to an ongoing crisis.

It has been reported that South Africa has one of the highest rates of public investment in education in the world. Accounting for around 7% of gross domestic product (GDP) and 20% of total state expenditure, the government spends more on education than on any other sector1.Yet, innovative entrepreneur and co-founder of SPARK Schools, Ryan Harrison, says that this is currently not translating to tangible results. 

He adds that amid all the current negative reports, there are opportunities presenting themselves within the sector to inspire greater outcomes for South Africa’s youth.

Recently awarded the Innovator of the Year® title in the 2016 Entrepreneur of the Year® competition sponsored by Sanlam / BUSINESS/PARTNERS, founders Ryan Harrison and Stacey Brewer, shook up the traditional model of schooling and started SPARK Schools – a network of primary schools – in response to the growing opportunities that became available to fix a struggling education system through creativity and innovation. 

“The primary education division is one of the hardest areas to innovate because young children need much more stability and hands-on guidance to aid their development, whereas in senior levels, children are able to self-study, which allows for more creativity in the tools they are exposed to within the classroom,” says Harrison.

SPARK Schools is dedicated to delivering accessible, high quality education by using a blended learning programme, which combines traditional classroom teaching and online learning, to individualise education for all students. “We’ve only just begun to shake things up in the way our education model works, but there is a need for an overhaul and renewed creativity, in order to work towards a system that benefits all our learners - countrywide.”

As state schools currently have the monopoly within the education system, more competition is needed to drive change, says Harrison. He stresses the need for more entrepreneurs to get involved in this vital sector of the South African economy. “It’s not all about making money – sometimes we have to forgo the easy sell to make a quick buck, and instead get innovative for the sake of our, and our children’s, future.”

At SPARK Schools, school fees are benchmarked on what government’s total cost to educate is and the business ensures that “affordable” means affordable to the country. In terms of cost, SPARK Schools are therefore  more affordable  than government  schools  and  significantly  more affordable  than  private schools,  while  in  terms  of  quality,  the SPARK Schools’ students are outperforming the national standard by at least one level. 

Harrison explains that if parents were presented with more options to choose affordable, private education, as opposed to state school facilities, the sector would benefit overall. “As in any industry where a monopoly is present, we tend to accept mediocrity for lack of other options available. But the minute there is new competition in the industry, we as consumers are able to choose options that suit us better, according to our own personal preferences. Competition also forces businesses – and in this case, schools – to aim higher and perform better.”