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'Drop out of school': Does that advice work in South Africa?

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Like many other black South African parents, my folks were non-negotiable on one thing: that my siblings and I, at the very minimum, go to university and graduate. They worked slavishly, too, to make it happen. I’m sure many other South African parents held and continue to hold the same view, but I highlight black parents specifically because education beyond high school at an institution of their choosing, sometimes even high school itself, was something often unattainable for many of their generation (and others before) due to Apartheid and its two-level education system.

They didn’t care – at least my folks didn’t – what degree it was, because for them, along with voting (political freedom) and living in any area they please (social freedom), access to university education (economic freedom) was another affirmation that the bad old days were indeed over.

I can imagine then how South African parents, especially black ones, would baulk if they were told, as PayPal founder Peter Thiel has said, that higher education is overvalued.

His reasons? Well, Thiel likens higher education to the housing bubble where the perception of security and insurance against the future has inflated the value of an investment (in this case college education) to well beyond its true value. He also says that higher education feeds off an uncomfortable elitist dynamic where the success of graduates from Ivy League schools depends on the exclusivity they have created – not because the schools (or the graduates themselves) are intrinsically better than others.

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