By Peggy Malele, Phukubje Pierce Masithela Attorneys
The Information and Communications Technology (ICT) industry has become one of the most dynamic and economically influential industries. It has become a vital engine for growth of the world economy, service delivery, communications in general and more importantly education.[i] Furthermore, ICT plays an important tool in the educational system as it, amongst others things, advances school administration such as the registration of learners, accurate records of learners and the storage and sharing of information with others.[ii] It is imperative for learners to develop ICT skills so that they are able to function effectively in broader society and are able to contribute to the sustained use of ICT within it.
THE EFFECT OF ICT ON THE EDUCATION SYSTEM
Public education is increasingly seen as ineffective in resource allocation and incapable of the speedy delivery of good service. It is estimated that approximately thirty percent of schools currently use computers for teaching and learning, but only two percent of those schools actually have access to the internet.[iii] South African schools have the potential to take part in the digital age, but still face a severe lack of infrastructure.[iv] For the community to be empowered economically via ICT, people must have access to information technology and be enabled to create and receive appropriate content through it. For this to be accomplished, mechanisms have to be put in place to stimulate investment in appropriate infrastructure.
It is ultimately the responsibility of government to ensure that learners, especially from rural or public schools, are afforded equal learning opportunities. However, the wide-ranging demands placed on conventional education systems, including improving quality, promoting equity and ensuring accountability, means that government alone may not be able to meet all these challenges.[v] Moreover, the costs and time of implementation prohibits the government from effectively executing this operation.
THE ROLE OF PUBLIC PRIVATE PARTNERSHIPS IN ENHANCING ICT IN EDUCATION
Public Private Partnerships (“PPP”) emerge as an ideal solution to this technological predicament. A PPP can be defined as “a cooperative venture between the public and private sectors, built on the expertise of each partner, that best meets clearly defined public needs thorough the appropriate allocation of resources, risks and rewards.”[vi]
A PPP therefore entails a relationship of sharing resource activities. This is convenient in that each sector will be enhanced to perform its own task more easily due to the assistance afforded by the other. By combining the respective strengths and resources of the two sectors and therefore, complementing each other, a partnership proves to be an ideal solution for public policy developments. A PPP allows a private-sector firm to assume responsibility for a project, for example as a service provider, while maintaining public accountability for essential aspects of service provision.[vii]
Having said the above, the reality of the matter is that in every PPP relationship, each party usually has its own underlying motivations, one being profit driven, the other being its desire to deliver social services to under developed communities. Thus, for any PPP project to succeed, each partner’s contribution must complement the other in a way that enables both to achieve their goals more efficiently within the given PPP than on their own.[viii]
THE BENEFIT FOR GOVERNMENT OF HAVING THE PRIVATE SECTOR INVOLVED
An important aspect of PPPs is that a substantial portion of risk is passed to the private sector. The private sector would usually ensure faster implementation due to the availability of skills and resources. The responsibility of the public sector can be operated more efficiently in a more entrepreneurial fashion and with less cumbersome government politics and potential mismanagement. Unlike privatisation, government would be able to retain ownership of the property although the management of same lies with the private sector for a specified period of time.
HOW DOES THE PPP RELATIONSHIP BENEFIT THE PRIVATE SECTOR
The private sector is afforded access to new markets and is comforted by the fact that risk is shared. Companies are afforded an opportunity to influence their public image in the market place and to further improve the likelihood that those they help will become future customers.[ix]
In our world of today, if learners are to succeed in the global economy, ICT has to be part of their learning experiences. Although the government is capable of providing learners with this learning opportunity, it may not be able to do so as swiftly as needed. An efficient partnership with efficient and adequately skilled private sector partners will ensure that the appropriate resources are available to learners and the broader community within a shorter period of time.
PEGGY MALELE, CANDIDATE ATTORNEY
PHUKUBJE PIERCE MASITHELA ATTORNEYS
[i] “http://www.mofa.go.jp/policy/economy/summit/2000/charter.html Okinawa
Charter on Global Information Society