I discovered Malcolm Gladwell's Revisionist History Podcast accidentally - not because it was difficult to find; but rather because I wasn't even looking for new podcasts. The series (or season 1) is over; and I am only halfway through - but the middle episodes on education has been fascinating.
So far, the podcasts have all been very US centric - but the US does have quite a few similarities with South Africa: historic racial inequality, history of segregation, high inequality and high disparity in education levels. Education in South Africa, specifically higher education, has been a hot topic in South Africa - and the three podcasts on education leave a lot of food for thought.
Episode 4, Carlos Doesn't Remember, traces the wider impact of inequality and social problems associated with inequality on the "smart kids". The compelling argument is not that the distribution of clever people is bound to race or wealth - that is obvious; but rather that they do not have the actual tools at hand to really take advantage of their talents. It is not just a matter of do well in school; and the world will open up - the wider support structure is an inherent part of making it happen. In the context of transformation targets in South Africa; this is an important point - it will be difficult to change the face of sport and business without the wider socio-economic support; not just waiting for talent to rise to the top.
Episode 5, Food Fight, traces the decisions of two different private colleges in the US to funding poorer students; and makes the case that there is a moral issue at stake when a college decides to focus on better food or on better facilities rather than funding poorer students for education. In the context of #feesmustfall, I wonder how many South African institutions have made these type of calls.
Finally, episode 6, My Little Hundred Million, traces the huge endowments of US universities; and the absurdity of philanthropic donations of education institutions that already have endowments bigger than some countries' GDP. And for that matter, the fact that most of these elite universities remain closed to many underprivileged students; despite the fact that they can actually afford to financially support many more such students. There is however a take way for South African universities - ultimately, the success of institutions such as Harvard, Princeton and the like is due to their endowments. South African universities, and universities in general across the developing world, will need to build similar endowment funds to be able to compete and thrive.
I have really enjoyed the series so far, and would highly recommend the podcast to all.