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11 May 2023

The Future of Education in South Africa with Jevron Epstein (Generation Schools)

In this episode of Big Fish Stories, Eitan got to chat to Jevron Epstein, the CEO and founder of Generation Schools, an innovative new school group in South Africa.

Eitan and Jevron explore the current state of education in South Africa and discuss the future of education worldwide. They delve into the role of technology and innovation in education, and how it’s adapting to their natural learning process and transforming the way children learn.

Jevron is a remarkable entrepreneur who has created a unique and extraordinary educational model. This conversation is a must-listen for anyone interested in understanding how the next generation will be educated.

Take a listen!

 

 

Eitan Stern: 

Welcome to Legalese Big Fish Stories, the podcast where we showcase local South African entrepreneurs their stories and their big relevance to the world around them. As lawyers working with startups and established businesses in the tech and creative industries, we get front row seats to some incredible business adventure rides. The problem is that as lawyers, our work is confidential with big fish stories. We’re going inside the room with some proudly South African entrepreneurs to talk about their airy highs, lonely lows, and creamy middles of the road to success as a country, deep in economic development, there is massive potential for smart entrepreneurs to build something great. Join us as we meet some of these big fish and find out how they’re looking to make their ponds even bigger. I’m your host managing director of Legalese Eitan Stern . Great. We are sitting here on a , on a beautiful autumn morning in the bottom of the Foreshore of Cape Town . I’m sitting with , uh, Jevon Epstein Jevon , thanks for being on the show today. Why don’t you kick us off? Do you wanna introduce yourself? Tell us , uh, who you are and what you do for a living.

Jevron Epstein: 

Thank you. I thank you for having me on the show. Jevon Epstein , uh, had a checkered past with education, went to 13 different schools.

Eitan Stern: 

Wow .

Jevron Epstein: 

Um, ended up graduating at a well-known private school from Durban during my process of , um, investigation with an education. Um, had a couple of run-ins with , uh, authority and schooling.

Eitan Stern: 

Okay. I was about to say, generally the people that went to 13 different schools often got kicked out of 12 of them. Was that your story, or, or was it

Jevron Epstein: 

No ,

Eitan Stern: 

No . Moving around a bit more. It , it

Jevron Epstein: 

Wasn’t about being, being kicked out , it was asking questions that weren’t allowed to be asked. Okay. So, being an inquiring mind, and I had questions when, when educators would share information and when they couldn’t answer it, it was more of a no versus an explanation, and then I would just question that. So yeah . And then obviously a journey of, of , of a transient family moving from the cape up to Kwazulu Natal . So just an experience, a wholehearted experience within the educational framework.

Eitan Stern: 

Okay. And what do you do today?

Jevron Epstein: 

So today I run a group of private schools here in South Africa. And the reason I gotta use the word private is obviously we receive no government funding.

Eitan Stern: 

Yeah. We’re gonna dig into that a little in quite a bit of detail. And , and

Jevron Epstein: 

Another reason for private schools that you don’t run the South African curriculum, which means that you’re an independent school.

Eitan Stern: 

Cool. I want to unpack that as well. What is it so that you run generation schools? So , yeah .

Jevron Epstein: 

So Generation

Eitan Stern: 

Schools, <laugh> , and how many are they in , in , around ,

Jevron Epstein: 

There are seven schools currently. There are six in the Western Cape and one in Johannesburg.

Eitan Stern: 

Okay. And I mean , so I , I live out in Kommetjie and there’s one just by us. So that’s why I know about generation schools. But maybe you can explain like what makes your schools unique? What is, is there a theory or methodology behind it? Why generation schools?

Jevron Epstein: 

So, you know, when we looked at opening up a schools group that we wanted to differentiate ourselves from anybody else and actually be something that was focused on individualized education, we spent some time traveling the world looking at different options from Scandinavian schools in Finland all the way through to Montessori schools. I looked at unschooling, I even looked at the homeschooling methodology. And what, what came from our, our journeys and our explorations within education is that Montessori education specifically in the early years is focus around child led learning. Mm-hmm . <affirmative> , which means that curiosity is king. And why that’s important is it creates a natural learning pathway for a child. Mm-hmm . <affirmative> . So Montessori in our early years until the age of 12, and then from the age of 12 onwards, we are a Cambridge accredited school. Obviously, we chose Cambridges as the world’s largest examination body of private schools being more than 13,000 schools globally. And then how we differentiate ourselves even more is in our high schools. We have a vocational pathway which allows students to finish schoolwork, asynchronously, non-exam based , and not waiting for the planner to go around the sun before you get your results, we’re able to move

Eitan Stern: 

On. I see . Okay. So what does it mean practically to, if , for people that aren’t involved in, in , in education, that means you , you don’t do the South African matric in your schools. You do a different qualification , uh, assume if it’s Cambridge than it’s a British, is that a levels or Correct.

Jevron Epstein: 

Okay . Yeah . So South African matric is , uh, is registered by a group called Umma Lui . We register ourselves with Cambridge, which is part of the university, one of the oldest institutions , um, educational institutions on the planet founded in 1806. Um , and we run our examinations Okay . Through the university and do IGCSEs and A Levels , which is a hybrid of qualifications between the agency 16 . But

Eitan Stern: 

If say , but if you’re finishing school from generations and you want to go to U C T or, or Vitz or one of them, the qualification works. It’s , uh,

Jevron Epstein: 

Correct. Yeah . International qualification registered and required and , uh, adopted by any institution on the first .

Eitan Stern: 

So you could go to Vits or UCT, but you could also go to Cambridge or Harvard or , or , or any . Cool. I mean, fascinating. And I , I think we’re gonna dig into that more in a second, but I’m quite curious about , uh, to dial it back for a little bit and just find out a little bit more about you. How did you get into education? You said you had a bit of a checkered school background. I know before we, the mics were on, you were telling me a little bit more about it. Yeah. But if you can tell us a little bit more about your pathway to education. Have you always been in it ? Did you study it?

Jevron Epstein: 

Yeah , so , so I , I , at a young age, I was misdiagnosed or diagnosed with what you would classify as sort of , um, Asperger’s. Okay. So I went to a special, I can’t call it a special needs school, but it was a , I would say remediation environment for schooling in, in Swollen Dam, where our main sport was tug of war , which is quite interesting. And that’s my claim to fame. Okay. I did tug of war for Western Cape <laugh> . Um ,

Eitan Stern: 

It’s , it’s , it’s an

Jevron Epstein: 

Actual sport. It’s a nap , it’s a sport. It’s

Eitan Stern: 

Real. Oh , you look at you , you look like you’d be good at tug of war . Yeah . A

Jevron Epstein: 

Tug of war and a paper of rugby as well. And , and I think, you know, for , for me, what was fascinating was I was, I was the youngest kid in the school, and I , there was someone in my class that was 19 years old, and I think at that stage I was 12 or 13 years old. I think for me it was just this, this myriad of, of what happens in schooling. And then all of a sudden I be finished school, I go to university, and then I go to work. And I realize that the world has nothing in common towards what schooling is. The university touches on certain things like time, value of money or interest rates , et cetera . But schools teach you nothing that you need to know in the real world.

Eitan Stern: 

Very interesting.

Jevron Epstein: 

And then, you know, I studied business management and finance enrolled to do my articles, did my CFA one and two , worked for a pension fund, and then realized that I was doing something that was against my passion. And I was searching for money versus meaning. Um , I thought, you know what? I’m gonna , I’m gonna investigate education cuz it’s what I’m passionate about. And that was it. That was the start of the journey In 2016, our first school opened. Uh , we now have seven schools. Um , we also have a digital product, which we sold two schools, which is another whole story for another

Eitan Stern: 

Day . So, so , so how did that work? So you just , so you leave the pension fund, you decide you want to be, you want to get into education. Did you had the concept then? I mean, you , you said you had looked at models all around the world. Was there a process of going and , and researching it? Or did you just have the idea and launch it? Did you have to find funding? How did that work? Yeah,

Jevron Epstein: 

So, you know, I spent a lot of time researching it. My wife , um, was studying education at the time, and I spent a lot of time with her in her final year of her, of her degree. I then also enrolled to do the Montessori , um, course on understanding how Montessori education was specialized for indivi individualized learning. Okay. And then I was like, you know, I’m gonna do this. Obviously working in a pension fund, you get to know how people work with money. Sure, yeah . Make some contacts phone, somebody said , I’ve got a deal for you. Okay, here’s some land that’s very cheap. We sign a good yield, which

Eitan Stern: 

Was the first school

Jevron Epstein: 

In Sunnydale Sunnydale in Sunnydale , which is art in Blueburg . And, and , you know, the deal parameters met the , the requirements of the financial investor didn’t really matter what my educational model was going to be. I see. So , so versus trying to sell an educational model to someone that invests, I’d rather sell the business opportunity of a rental return. Yeah .

Eitan Stern: 

Well, school’s , school’s a good business. Sure.

Jevron Epstein: 

Yeah, yeah ,

Eitan Stern: 

Yeah . I’m about to have a child and kind of figuring all , all of this out. And I, I’ve actually been a little bit blown away by how expensive , uh, private education is. So yeah, I imagine it’s a , a good business, but it’s, it sounds to me like it’s your , your passion for it was partly from the business side , but more from like the , the education side. I suppose my question is, is why education? What is it that draws you to it?

Jevron Epstein: 

I , I think, you know, you as, as someone that’s gonna become a parent soon , if the more investigation you’re do into education, the more disheartened you’re gonna become. Well , the system is hundreds of years old. It’s never changed. It started through the industrial revolution. We grade children, like we grade beef. So you get a grade beef and then you get a grade students. Yeah . No one’s going to eat an F grade piece of beef. No . <laugh> . Um , and that’s the way it is. We, we are categorized by batch numbers. Yeah . So the date of your matriculation is your batch number. Um , your age has got no actual connection to the material that you’re studying at school. There’s no sequential reasoning behind the way that we assess children. The fact that we stop an examination children is, is , is bar barrack as we don’t do that again. Universities have changed

Eitan Stern: 

The , the , the way that we watch

Jevron Epstein: 

Children examine children. So with , with with , I say examinations. Yeah. You know, I , no one’s coming to my office and says , stop working. You’re gonna write an exam now.

Eitan Stern: 

Right. It stops as soon as you finish school. And actually, yeah. You’re right. Correct . It doesn’t sound like something that’s child appropriate. And it ,

Jevron Epstein: 

And it’s not gonna change because unfortunately the system is designed around people marking exam papers.

Eitan Stern: 

So do you not do exams at your schools? So

Jevron Epstein: 

Our Cambridge qualifications requires examinations. Mm-hmm . <affirmative> , but our own alternative pathway we’ve created does not require any examination. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, it’s a portfolio of evidence based no different to a dissertation. Okay.

Eitan Stern: 

So Karen , your , your , your thought there , I mean , you’re saying the more we investigate about education, the more disheartening we are gonna get. So the more disheartened I will get. So , so why education then? Because

Jevron Epstein: 

I think, you know, if, if you , if you separated education to two components early years in high school years, a good example for you is when children are young, we educate their whole bodies. Mm-hmm . <affirmative> not , not just their heads. By the time you get to a trick , the only thing that’s being examined is your head. The rest of your body doesn’t move, the rest of your body doesn’t matter. Mm-hmm . In early years, children go to preschool and primary school, they have lots of fun, they run outside, there’s pre play , et cetera . And then you’ll realize quite quickly there’s a , there’s , there’s a direct correlation between children no longer liking school after preschool and primary school when they’re still moving into high school environment where it’s more about your head than your body. Um , and I think, you know, what the world has , has proven is that we are holistic beings. You know, movement is just as important in education as being able to remember your timestables. But there’s so many different broken structures within our educational system that the only way to fix it is being able to offer students choice. But we can’t do that because our qualifications aren’t built that way. Our , um, our exam bodies are not built that way. It’s a system that has not changed for over 120 years. And for it to change, you know, you would need a tectonic shift.

Eitan Stern: 

Okay. Do you think that’s gonna happen?

Jevron Epstein: 

I , I think technology has already started that. Okay . You know , I think we are naive to think that things like , um, open ai , gpt three , um, you know , uh, natural language processing isn’t going to affect education. Yeah . However, I just don’t think that we as a, you know, as a society realize how quickly it has already affected us and how disconnected children are from being in schools.

Eitan Stern: 

Got you . But I’m gonna bring us back once again cuz before we start talking about AI and education, which is a fascinating topic, and I hope we get to that at the end. I wanna just bring us back to a little bit more about you. Was this your first, the generation schools , this your first experience with entrepreneurship? Or were you always an entrepreneur?

Jevron Epstein: 

No , I was always hustling. Okay . You know, when I was younger, I was selling , uh, they used to be called the original Fakes. Okay . Which is , uh, perfume. Okay. Um , that smelled exactly the same as the original. Yeah. But the , the bottle , um, obviously you can only paint a name and a and a bottle. Yeah . You can’t paint a smell seconds . It’s like me painting my farts and saying, you can’t smell like that . Okay . <laugh>. So I used to, I used to hustle some perfumes, and then I started an accounting practice called Reporting Solutions. Okay. Which only accounted for non-profit schools. Oh, wow. So non-profit schools and environments, and then moving into Montessori schools, and then a lot of NGO work. And that entity was majority owned by a non-for-profit company. Um, and that was my sort of first engagement in the sector to understand how South Africa works with sustainability and is our country actually sustainable in a non-profit environment.

Eitan Stern: 

Yeah. So, so, and is that product still around or pulling solutions

Jevron Epstein: 

The business was sold on and sold in , um, and it’s not part of something called DFI accounting. Yeah.

Eitan Stern: 

I mean, it’s funny, I mean, I want to get to, to this question about South education a second. But it’s interesting for me. I , I agree with you. I don’t really remember being educated about entre entrepreneurship at school. And I’ve seen now there’s this university degrees you can do. Like, there’s the Graduate School of Business, which is very focused around entrepreneurship. When I graduated from U C T, which was, what, 10 or 12 years ago, none of those options existed. And I think it’s fantastic that they do now, but like entrepreneurship, which in South Africa feels like a very, very important skill is is not really taught to you. It certainly wasn’t taught to me when I was a kid. It’s like the, the practical elements of life were not taught are not taught to our kids at school. And we’re taught certain subjects, which might not , I mean, biology, well biology is probably a very important one to , to know about, but there’s probably some subjects which are kind of less practical in our lives than business or entrepreneurship.

Jevron Epstein: 

Yeah . I think it’s got something to do with language. You know, if you look at , um, like the school subjects that are taught at school, you know, even if you want to bring something like entrepreneurship in the language continuum of school isn’t built for entrepreneurship. Mm-hmm . Um , I’ll give you a good example. I , I didn’t wake up this morning and use , uh, my pyra theorem to calculate, you know, how much money I’m gonna make in a business. Yeah . Um , I think it’s, you know, schools don’t teach time value of money. There’s, there’s no discussion of compound interest. Um , they’re no subjects on taxation , um, in how the world works, how to get an ID book. Yeah . What you need to open up a business. What is sipi , what are these documentation that’s required? You know, what is a balance sheet? What is a cash flow ? Those, those items. And the biggest problem that you have is that education, South Africa or globally runs in silos. Yeah. And entrepreneurship isn’t a silo. It’s, it’s a thematic approach to business. It constitutes a bit of English, a bit of marketing. Yeah. Bit of speech and drama, bit of accounting, bit of creative thinking , bit of finance, creative thinking, art. And because we teach things in silos in schools, children can’t rope those things together and create an realistic viewpoint. They just keep looking at something as an asylum .

Eitan Stern: 

So that’s kind of the method that, I’m just trying to fully understand this idea of generation schools. So that’s kind of what you guys are doing. You’re trying to create more ballistic ways of thinking about the world. Yeah .

Jevron Epstein: 

Connecting the subjects, making people realize that, you know, there’s, there’s multiple ways of looking at the different subjects that you’re doing. And they don’t work in a silo. They all work together.

Eitan Stern: 

So, so the last episode we did, and , um, with Leana Dub from Phoenix , um, they do crowdfunding of education. It was focused on education. And after that, I had this , this , for some reason, this topic just stuck with me. I wanted to find out more, which is why we’re chatting today. You obviously approach education from a very, first of all, different age bracket. You , your schools all focused around school children, whereas they’re funding university. But I’m curious if , if , if I think about the problems in South Africa, it seems to me like one of the big solutions to develop South Africa is to educate the youth. So I guess I want to know from you, like how, how is South Africa doing with education? Where are we?

Jevron Epstein: 

Well, we sit in the bottom ranking of the world. Okay. But I don’t have to, we have to share that information.

Eitan Stern: 

It’s important to know, you

Jevron Epstein: 

Know, you look, let’s say a million children enroll in school in standard six or, or , or , or grade eight. And they’re going into their , into the matricula. Out of a million people, 500,000 students actually finish when you look at your exam pass rates . And even if it was 76 or 78%, subtract that 500,000 and never made it through school. And you’ll realize that we are in a very poor position. And the reason we are in a poor position is that we assess children all the same. The easiest way to to explain is you’ve put a whole bunch of corks in the water and you put your hand down, you’ve gotta keep some of the corks down. But some of them will pop up. And that’s the way that assessment works in our country. You know, we , we don’t assess children for what they know. We assess children for what they don’t know . And I think that is so counterproductive when it comes to what these students need to do when they leave school. We , we have this misinterpretation that, you know, children see this the world the same way that we saw this world when we were at school. Education hasn’t changed. The , the world has dramatically changed with technology and with all of the nuances that we currently face, yet we assess and we treat children the same. So from my personal perspective, you know, si Africa is a very difficult country. It’s got 11 or 12 national languages , um, with people that have come from a multiverse race , um, creed, thoughts. How do you educate all of those people with the same methodology at the same time and expect the same outcome?

Eitan Stern: 

Well, how do you expect that? I mean, so it’s not, it’s not gonna happen.

Jevron Epstein: 

So this then boils down to the world’s best educational system, which is in Finland. Yeah . So Finland is the world’s best education system, but it’s quite simple. There are 5 million people that live there. They all speak the same language. And they had winter for six months of the year. Mm-hmm . So natural selection took place a couple hundred years ago, the strongest were left. And what you’ve got is a good sample selection of people that are all the same in our country. The only way that you can change education is if you offer choice.

Eitan Stern: 

Okay. So, I mean, that’s , that’s, and I , and I mean this with, with full due respect to , to you and your work, but it’s, it sounds like everything that you’re talking about is incredible. And you’re comparing it to Finland and we , you run a group of private schools, but it sounds like teaching people in a very unique way. It sounds expensive. It doesn’t sound like something which is ever gonna be available for the general public in South Africa. I mean , how do you think about that? You run a business, you , you are running certain schools, you’re not running the , the education department. But do you think the work that you’re doing could be run by the education department and could be in public schools?

Jevron Epstein: 

Yeah, I think , uh, you know, I think the roots of education comes through the training of educators. Okay . So look at the way we educate, and I’m gonna ask the question. You know , in your, in your, in your period of time doing some research, look how old these qualifications are that these teachers have been taught. You know, what do they constitute? What is the ,

Eitan Stern: 

What do they constitute ? I mean, I don’t know anything about teachers. Where do people people do to the , do you do a university

Jevron Epstein: 

Degree? They study a university degree. Okay. And in our country, we have this weird thing called a pg c e mm-hmm . <affirmative> , which allows someone with a postgraduate, an undergrad qualification, anything geography, any subject that you want, marketing, et cetera , to go to university and for 18 months do a top up course that enables them to be a teacher, be

Eitan Stern: 

A teacher in that subject.

Jevron Epstein: 

And I, I just think to myself, well , you know, is that really reflective on what it requires for someone to be an educator? Then you look at our four year degrees that we have in South Africa, or three year teaching degrees. Ask yourself the question, when last was that content, you know, when was that loss ? Was that content changed? When you wanna register a qualification, South Africa, you gotta register through a university body, go to the department for higher education and you’ll ask yourself how long it takes that qualification to be accredited. Mm-hmm . <affirmative> . So, you know, with, with the rapid way that the world is changing, how do , how do teachers, you know, stay up to date with regards to what’s happening, what technologies are utilized? You would then say, well, any professional body would have a professional development qualification. And you ask yourself the question, is our South African educational system built for professional development of educators? Are they doing their c p D points? Mm-hmm . You know, are they engaged that way? And then you gotta split education up into two components, the students that go to school and those that are educating them. And then what sits in the middle is the curriculum, the content that is taught to those students. And at the end of it, how they assessed. So it is quite complicated. And it’s not just a school, it’s not just a, a value proposition of someone paying for it. The schools don’t have to be that expensive. What we need to really invest in is, is is the upskilling of our educators. Yeah . And, you know, making them feel like they’re part of society versus, you know, making them feel like they’re not part of society cuz they’re underpaid.

Eitan Stern: 

Okay. Which is an issue. So , and , and how do you guys deal with it in , in generation schools? Where are you hiring your body of teachers from? What qualifications do you guys require ? So

Jevron Epstein: 

We, so we were the first group that provided Cambridge’s online professional development qualification that links into teaching degrees. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. So we offer certificate and a diploma straight through the university, which gives us a , a , a staff member access to , um, an Angela Ruskins University for either an international PGC and or a master’s qualification or a teaching degree. So we have our own teaching unit system inside of the school. Um , but it’s expensive and because we don’t, we’re not provided any government funding to run a school in this country as difficulty .

Eitan Stern: 

You guys are doing fantastic work. You’re educating the youth of South Africa, whether it’s private or public, you’re in the right team. Um, what support do you get from governments there ?

Jevron Epstein: 

There’s no support. You know, not even in our rates of our buildings. So in the Western Cape, the rates that we pay are ridiculous. Okay. Um , specifically in terms of the pricing we pay as a school institution. Um , and yes, you can speak to your local authorities and everyone’s got a plan to change it. Yeah.

Eitan Stern: 

But it hasn’t actually happened . It’s not gonna happen. Who’s in charges That basic, basic education. That’s

Jevron Epstein: 

Basic education. Then also public works. So like public works generally own the school buildings that government school buildings are in. Um , and then you’ve got council and it’s just discussions, you know, burg’s a little bit different. Burg can get some rebate back on your rates . Yeah. Um, it , it’s just a fight now you fight to exist in this country. Yeah . Where if I went to America, you know, I could go to America and I could get, I could get dollars every month as a, as a charter school from the , from the government because they want more educational practices

Eitan Stern: 

There. Yeah. I mean we did , we’ve done work over the years for, for certain educational companies and edutech companies. We had a foreign company that was looking to invest a fair sum of money into African schools. And they eventually canned the project because they couldn’t, it was some catch 22 situation that they couldn’t get their building until they had their certificate. They couldn’t get their certificate until they had their building. It , it , it was one of these frustrating situations that I think the school just never landed up happening. Does that sound like a similar sort of with

Jevron Epstein: 

Situation

Eitan Stern: 

You deal with the

Jevron Epstein: 

Bureaucracy that you have in terms of red tape to exist or to open or to, to be there is , it’s , it’s extremely challenging. Um , and then you’ve got all of the day-to-day hassles that one faces. Yeah. It is difficult, you know, so Africa doesn’t, it’s not, the system isn’t built for entrepreneurs within education to be successful here . Okay. And that’s why they , you know, you got large school groups such as like Kiro and Avitech , you know, in the middle tier, unless you have the ability to raise huge amounts of funding with a good story, the battle is that you’re by yourself.

Eitan Stern: 

Did you guys need a certification or a license in order to run the school ? Or if it’s not running with according to the south metric or you’re not licensed by the basic department? Yes .

Jevron Epstein: 

Yeah . So we register with the Department of Basic Education because it , it’s legislation in terms of how many bathrooms, how many , uh, how many parking bays, you know, what you needed in the school. So we , we register with them. And then for our curriculum framework, we register as a Cambridge school, which , uh, you know, is currently allowed within the South African framework. And the reason we reach to the Cambridge schools that we provide us with an international , um, qualification that’s, that’s recognized globally. Just an interesting fact for you from a schooling perspective in private schools, South Africa charge probably one of the, one of the lowest amounts for private education globally. Oh wow. So, you know, you can look at schools , groups that come over here and then pull out of here. They’d rather operate in the likes of Morocco, Kenya, Botswana, even Angola. And then obviously all of the, you know, all the European Australian , um, Asian countries, South Africa , you know, from a , from a school fee perspective, does not charge near as what rest of the global schools ,

Eitan Stern: 

George . Yeah . I mean, when I think about education in South Africa , I mean, look, I , I’m, I’m a a lawyer, I’m an entrepreneur. I have a good investment in, in South Africa and emotional investment here. I live here. When I think about educating, you know, the youth of this country, it’s, it’s to raise people that are going to help develop this country and start businesses here and get jobs here and become teachers here. It sounds to me that with your schools playing into a global education scheme, that is it not raising people to leave South Africa. And I suppose that’s maybe an unfair way of putting it. I , I guess I’m curious, like what’s your view on the people that leave your school ? So the , the kids that graduate, so they, they have this international certification so they could go anywhere in the world or, or do you have a belief around what contribution your schools make to, to South Africa in general

Jevron Epstein: 

Sense , it’s , it’s , it’s a hybrid. Um , you know , we’ve got students that stay here. They, they , they go to South African universities and they graduate here. And then we have students that leave. And I think, you know, from a a parent’s perspective, if you’ve got the South African passport, what other opportunity are you giving your child to leave this country? Mm-hmm . <affirmative> , you know, as patriotic as I want to be, you know, we have load shedding for eight hours a day. Mm-hmm . <affirmative> , we don’t have an answer for that load shedding. And , you know, kids at schools aren’t asking these questions. Our kids ask these questions. They want to know what’s happening in our country. They wanna know what’s happening with crime. You know , we can be as patriotic as we want to be and live in the most beautiful place that we wanna live in. But you have to be aware of what is happening in your surroundings. For sure. And those are the debates that we have at our schools where they ask these questions and that , you know, and like, you know, can one voice be enough? And someone will say yes. And someone will say , well, multiple voices need to be together. But then it boils down to economics. Um , and there’s, there’s always a black and white answer with regards to what is happening in a country and are there , are there green shoots?

Eitan Stern: 

Yeah .

Jevron Epstein: 

From a frank perspective, kids that see the opportunity in our country on the basis of saying, I can make money here, it’s outweighed by the fact of their safety, their security Yeah. And what’s now become their mental wellbeing. Yeah. Which is this new large trend moving within schools. So you’ve got this vast amount of, of smart human beings in schools who are unfortunately negatively impacted by what happens in South Africa and have the skewed stance on it.

Eitan Stern: 

Yeah.

Jevron Epstein: 

Which we try and change, but it’s, you know, the facts are the facts. The

Eitan Stern: 

Facts are the facts into reality. And from that, you dunno what, what happens to these kids. Some of them might leave, some of them might become the next heroes of this country. And I guess for me it , it , it’s a reminder. It falls into a global trend, right? Like the world is becoming more of a , a connected world. Businesses since Covid , a lot of international companies are hiring people from all around the world because of these remote work is made that simple. So I suppose while that’s a trend within the business world, you’re saying it’s also a trend within the education world that global certifications, global degrees , global education is, is actually probably part of a trend that the rest of the world is seeing. Yeah .

Jevron Epstein: 

The students wanna see the world as a village. They wanna be able to, you know, work online, work remotely, et cetera . And then because we offer first and second year university qualifications to the UK as well as top up degrees to the UK to some of our students, we have a lot of students that are staying here studying undergrad qualifications Yeah . In South Africa through a UK institution. Yeah . And a fraction of the price and working at the same time to get some work experience. Yeah . Um , they’ve seen that as another sort of like, you know , gap in the system , um, which gives them opportunity. They can have a degree from, I don’t know , Middlesex University or University of East London, but then they could still be based in South Africa, give themselves another opportunity. Our students do see that this country has huge amounts of opportunity. Mm . It’s just them weighing up what is required for them to achieve that opportunity. Um, you know, versus the impact of their social environments, their parents, their friends. You know , we’ve seen a huge immigration pool from our schools. And I can tell you this, you know, looking at , um, annual reports of other school groups, there are , there’s , there’s a huge influx of individuals moving, you know, to other countries. But then you also here in the Western Cape have immigration with regards to a lot of Joburg Durban nights moving down to Cape Town . So it’s a bit of a boiling pot. Um Yeah . Which does allow for opportunity. Yeah.

Eitan Stern: 

I mean, for you guys with, with your schools, I mean, you’re saying that there’s load shedding , so there’s less opportunity here and whatnot , but at the same time, you’re building quite a big school group here. So you guys must see a lot of opportunity for that. There’s still people that want to educate their children. Yeah . It’s not, that’s not that everyone’s leaving. Yeah .

Jevron Epstein: 

I , I think it’s, I think to get to a point in time where parents will question the way that their children are being educated and then start looking for an alternative form of education. Mm-hmm . You can see that now with the spiraling increase of cottage schools and online institutions, people want differentiated learning that’s more flexible and more like relevant to the world. So I think, you know, in terms of where we are, you know, we might look like a school because we have the flags and the badges. We can be part of Cambridge. Yeah . But what sits in the , in the , in the center of our , our being is that education needs to change for sure. And be more relevant and reflective of the world.

Eitan Stern: 

So I’m gonna press you for quite a hard question then ask Leanna as well. So I want to ask you the same question. If, you know, I waved to magic wand and you are the Minister of education in South Africa, what are some of the things that you would address immediately? What , are there some low hanging fruit that you think need a change? I mean, I’m sure it’s a very complex problem, but do you have a couple of suggestions that we should be doing South Africa to make sure we’re educating the useless country better?

Jevron Epstein: 

Yeah. I think that that is a difficult question. I think, you know, two things stick out to me. Number one is teacher training. Sure. If we invest in our educators, and it doesn’t have to be long-winded qualifications, even if it’s just about building, you know, asserting a, a form of self-belief in our teachers and giving them a skillset that, you know, understanding the different nuances and techniques in education, I think that’ll be a great start. And then I think investing in technology, not technology in terms of you , you know, being able to do the work for you, but technology and the ability to offer any curriculum, any school

Eitan Stern: 

Like the get smarter sort of method or the Valerian Institute

Jevron Epstein: 

Get smarter . Obviously the short course methodology and Valencia and u Ctan high school’s curricular , I’m saying that all content is the same. So if I’m, if you’re taught maths through caps or through Cambridge or through International Baccalaureate or through the accelerated Christian education or Waldorf Maths is maths . Yeah . If we provided all of the content for each of the students in every single one of our schools throughout South Africa, but we changed the way that we assess them. So if children that write well and the high sex examinations let them write well mm-hmm . Those are prefer doing portfolio of evidence. And those that’d like to be able to present it in a more practical format, do that, but then also start re-looking at the trades and bring those trade environments into schools. The average age of a plumber in South Africa is 46 years old. Schools sit with dormant buildings and which are unnecessary. So what I would look at is a technology structure that allowed a school to offer any curriculum, the same content, just changing the way that we assess the children and then differential pathways for students that aren’t built for , for mainstream education. Totally.

Eitan Stern: 

I mean, that’s how they do it in Europe, right. You can , instead of doing like a a ma trick, you can do your practical planning or craft or something like that.

Jevron Epstein: 

Yeah. And then put those two together and then link commerce into education. Mm-hmm . I think a personal, I think a personal belief, I think in the next 50 to a hundred years, you’ll no longer have secondary and tertiary education. Mm-hmm . I think it’ll be the same thing. What

Eitan Stern: 

Do you mean? Just expand on that. So I

Jevron Epstein: 

Think you have primary schools and preschools. Sure. And then you’ve got high schools that go into universities. You don’t really need high schools anymore. Okay. Content is freely available for children, students that are learning their content is shapeable. And you can have it in any format. Um, it’s more to understand why you’re doing what you’re doing within schooling so that you can practically apply that in university.

Eitan Stern: 

Well , in university you’re picking a rest , you’re picking a lane . Right. You’re saying I either want to be a doctor, a lawyer, an engineer, gender study, whatever it is. But in high school, we’re still, my understanding is you’re prepping our minds to be able to pick a lane that you wanna focus on in your life and be able to understand how you learn, understand how you read and write, et cetera .

Jevron Epstein: 

Yeah. But you learn how to read and write in primary school. Okay . I think high school’s meant to shape your mind in terms of a career. Sure. But we don’t teach careers in high school. No, we don’t. And we don’t teach themes. We teach subjects. Yeah. And the more you keep things siloed based , the less time you have to integrate that into a thematic approach so that you understand. A good example is if I go to university, I study industrial psychology or business management, it’s not just business management that in school it constitutes multiple different subjects. Mm . And the problem that you have in school is that it doesn’t do that. What is interesting for me is if you look at Cambridge’s methodology at the age of 16, you get rid of your low hanging subjects and then you spend one or two years on your A levels . And your A levels are technically three subjects be like a maths and a science and a biology. If you wanna get into the sciences. If you’re gonna go into business, it’s gonna be a , a math and English and a business subject, et cetera . So what they’re doing is they’re getting three subjects ready. But the most difficult math that you’ll do in engineering is the math you will do in a-level mathematics. Okay. Cause when you go to university, the math is completely different. Yeah. So from my personal like perspective, I see those two integrating. So you won’t have a high school and tertiary education in the future. And then I see, I , I see the practical application of commerce working with universities. Mm-hmm . So the LinkedIn of the future is a system where all data on a child’s academic ability and journey is kept, progressed into tertiary education, mixed with all the soft skills. Um, you know, the , the students sort of , um, personality matrix, what they’re best suited for, what their likes are , what their dislikes are, and then educational , um, uh, uh, institutions just taking from that pool as your first interview base. Yeah. And you create this legacy transaction for sure. Yeah. Now I see, I see the world moving more and more that way because at the moment our schooling system and our employ employability system is completely separate. It’s , yeah, for sure. Primary, secondary, tertiary employment. No golden thread. Keeping them together. Yeah.

Eitan Stern: 

I mean, I you said that was complex answer. I’m happy I pressed you for one. So, I mean, it’s quite succinct. Educate teachers better remove the bureaucracy. Correct. Connect education with commerce and uh , embrace, embrace technology with it. It’s , uh, yeah. Makes a lot of sense to me. I mean, one question that’s been on my mind as we start to wrap up, it’s kind of a little bit of a shift to the side, but you mentioned it earlier, things like AI and chat G P T. I mean, if I think about if I had chat G P T when I was in school, you know, I don’t think I would’ve written any essay ever. I would’ve got the program to do it. I mean, how do you think about, like, I hear you saying when you , you guys embrace technology, we haven’t addressed the platform that you guys are, are building, but it’s clear that you embrace technology. Are you scared of it at all in education? Do you think there’s some aspect that’ll make kids lazy or , or overreliant on it? Or are we thinking more like what happened when the calculator arrived and uh, and people still knew how to do maths? How do you think about that?

Jevron Epstein: 

Yeah , I think Google’s made made us lazy for , for a couple of years already . So I think, I think we , we , we way past that, but I , I watched this interesting podcast and there was this question all of about G P T three and natural language processing and what the future will be. And this, this , this gentleman says, when the refrigerators came out, you know, when refrigerators were built, the , the , the next big thing and who’s gonna make the most money? Cause refrigeration was a massive opportunity. And the question you ask is, who made the most money during the launch of the refrigerator? And the answer was Coca-Cola. Why? Because it’s not the fridge, it’s the product that says in the fridge. Cool. Yeah. And it’s the same viewpoint that I have with regards to chat G p T three , uh, artificial intelligence, artificial general intelligence that comes out at the end of this year is that I believe that education is freely available and open source . I think what’s interesting with regard to these products that you could start meta tagging data, which allows for every student to go through content at their own pace, taught a certain way, built in remediation tool sets to understand education quicker. And when you start, when you start engaging on a level of person per person, and you teach them how these tools can actually benefit their learning spaces, you’re just gonna make them quicker. Mm-hmm . <affirmative> . And you’re not gonna necessarily make them smarter or stupider. You’re just gonna make them quicker. And unfortunately, technology’s already done that for sure.

Eitan Stern: 

Yeah. I mean, this becomes a tool within education. I mean, it sounds like the way you are thinking about, I mean everything when this about this conversation has been a bit mind blowing for me. And a lot of it resonates immediately, but everything, the way that you seem to be thinking about education kind of feels one or two steps ahead of where the current trends are. Is is , is this one or two steps ahead of where generations, are you expanding generations’ vision? Or is this kind of where generations is now? Yeah,

Jevron Epstein: 

I think, you know, there’s, there’s always a lag between, you know, theory and reality. So, you know, generation schools in terms of, its, its structures. Montessori structure is there, Cambridge structure is there, our alternative pathway structure is there, our system and technology is there, but you still have to get the people that are doing this all across the line . So we invest a huge amount of time of, you know, retraining and rethinking how we engage with our educators, family members and staff, et cetera . I think there’s a lot of, you know, information that’s misunderstood, but also if you accelerated the speed at which we’ve done, there’s gonna be a natural lag . Our founding principles are set. Everything we’ve spoken about, as you said with regards to G PT three, AI integration, et cetera , is all done. It’s now UPS skinning those individuals. And that’s why when you asked earlier about, you know, if I could wave my , uh, wand with regards to the government is no matter how much you know or how good it’ll be, the implementation on a large scale is always tough , difficult,

Eitan Stern: 

Tough . Yeah. That’s a lot .

Jevron Epstein: 

And I think that’s, that’s the difficult part. You know, that’s why we stopped growing in terms of our expansion. It’s focusing on the environments that we have now and the success stories. We have students at 19 years old with degrees. Mm-hmm . They finished our accelerated school pathway at 16, first year of varsity 17, second year of varsity 1819, la Summa la become economics. Never written exam in their life.

Eitan Stern: 

But the flip side of it, just to press you a little bit on this, the flip side of it is that schools are there for one aspect that their there for education. Another that aspect, there’s a social aspect. We learn how to interact with other kids, we learn how to beat kids. There’s a sporting aspect, an extramural aspect. We find our interests. There’s some aspect of slowing school or keeping school for the full extent of one’s childhood. That also makes sense. How do you think about that?

Jevron Epstein: 

I , I , you know, content can be taught, you know, university, you know, primary school, high schools , just content. Yeah . These students still engage in school still part of sport , border polo, athletics, soccer, et cetera . They’re

Eitan Stern: 

Just learning different content. They’re

Jevron Epstein: 

Just learning different content. And I think that’s the part that we as a society need to get to is that, you know, university work is not more difficult than high school work . Okay. It , it’s really isn’t. It’s , I would probably even, you know, say that it’s , sometimes it’s easier.

Eitan Stern: 

Yeah. You don’t have to learn trigonometry at university.

Jevron Epstein: 

I hundred percent . No . Lemme just quickly whip out my calculus for you. So I think it’s like a , I think it’s that process for you. I think people just need to understand that if the language continuum changes within schools to be more reflective of university and university is more reflective of, of the employability space and these <inaudible> students are more prepared. Yeah. There’s a massive disconnect between schooling , um, and tertiary education, which just needs to be bridged.

Eitan Stern: 

Everything you’re saying resonates. And it’s funny, I’m reflecting as you speak, it’s , uh, when I was in matric we had higher grade and standard grade math. I dunno if that exists, but I , I pushed through higher grade maths and I got a D in the end. And it was the single greatest achievement of my life. And, and I think the only thing I remember from high school maths was how good it felt to push through something difficult and pass that’s, I don’t remember any of the maths, but that was, I never found out what X was in the end <laugh> . Um, but that, that’s the thing that, that kind of stuck with me. And you’re right. Like that’s not an ideal educational journey of like , it taught me perseverance, but that wasn’t the point of it. And I think even through, through university, I struggled . I mean, law school, I , I managed, but I was never a brilliant student. And I never felt I was , I never felt that I understood the way we were going. Like exams were very tough. I never understood why we, we did it. And that nature. And I don’t think I ever, I think like university didn’t reward you for thinking more creatively or outside the box. It rewarded you for kind of sticking within the box, which you’re right. It’s not really the ideal way for , for thinking. I mean, when you , where’s when you get to the working world, you’re completely rewarded for stepping out the box. That’s the only thing you’re rewarded for. So it , it , it really resonates with me what you’re saying. It’s fascinating.

Jevron Epstein: 

I , I’ll , I’ll just leave you with this thought. Um , you know, this whole study came out with the new 21st century skillsets that you’re gonna need to teach your children. Yeah . One of them was like collaboration. Now you go collaborate in examination, see what happens. Yeah. You know, you will , you get

Eitan Stern: 

Kicked off , you get kicked outta

Jevron Epstein: 

The school <laugh> , you try and be creative and , and think creatively in examination. Yeah . Doesn’t work. So I think what happens is that people start , you know, the society needs to marry the words that come out. These, these big words. Mm-hmm . <affirmative> . And what I would do is, and it’s something that you said earlier, you know, I would use words like grit instead. Yeah. Let students have a difficult project to work with and let them show grit to get it through with it. Totally. But don’t put them into a position where they’re gonna write an examination that counts for everything that they’ve been taught for the last 10 years. It means no , there’s no, there’s no value to it.

Eitan Stern: 

That means that you have a headache on that day . Correct.

Jevron Epstein: 

Yeah . But you have to wait a whole year while the earth goes around the sun before you can rewrite it because they’re not people ready to mark your examinations. And the system don’t allow it sounds

Eitan Stern: 

Broken. Yeah .

Jevron Epstein: 

So , so it’s as simple as that.

Eitan Stern: 

Last question for me. And then what is, if we think 10 years time, what happens to generation schools? What’s the vision where you guys trying to get to it ? This , I mean, I’ve heard from a , a theory point of view, but , uh, are you looking to expand this artists of Africa? Are you looking to open up 20 more schools? What’s next?

Jevron Epstein: 

I , I think, you know, I think we’ve got lots of buildings globally, lots of school buildings, lots of university buildings, lot of sunken costs in the ground. And it’s an old way of looking at things. I would say in 10 years time, our operating system that we are building, it will , will , will , will give every school what it needs to do to offer anything that it requires. Mm-hmm . It can shape itself. Um , it can teach teachers, it can provide degrees , um, it can provide spaces of learning. You know, what needs to happen is schools need to have hearts and brains. And the brains can be technology in the hearts of people. Cuz you said something earlier, school’s about connecting human engagement. Mm-hmm . That’s what educators are there for and that’s what friends are there for. I think once this operating system is finished, it’ll become the brain of any school asynchronous on the basis of also agnostic in terms of curricular offering. Mm-hmm . And then allows school to do what a school is , is is there to do, to provide education to students. A space to learn and a space to craft themselves. And I think technology is the thing that changes education.

Eitan Stern: 

Amazing. Yeah.

Jevron Epstein: 

Not, not new schools, not more buildings, not more opulence. Totally not , not more capitalism,

Eitan Stern: 

Not new blazers.

Jevron Epstein: 

A hundred percent. Yeah.

Eitan Stern: 

Jevron, thank you. I mean, I don’t know , maybe this is just from where, the point where I’m in my life, but this has just been the most fascinating eye-opening discussion. I hope lots of people listen to this. Thank you so much for taking part today.

Jevron Epstein: 

Thank you for having me. Thank you so much.

Eitan Stern: 

This podcast is recorded by Simon Atwell . The intro music is by PHFat. I’m your host Eitan Stern. For more information about legalese, catch us on legalese. co.za Or on the socials.