KEMMONS Wilson, who founded Holiday Inns in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1952, failed to graduate from high school and was reputed to have said that, because he had such little education, he had to "work real hard".

Like Wilson, Harry Truman, one of America's greatest presidents, came from a poor Kansas background and did not attend university. However, he was an omnivorous reader, a committed autodidact and an accomplished classical pianist.

He devoured all of Shakespeare, the Bible (twice), all the standard works on ancient Egypt, Rome and Greece.

On Robben Island, Nelson Mandela also read Shakespeare from a copy of the complete works which was smuggled into the jail. He is, of course, a well-educated attorney whose philosophy is reflected in his favourite Shakespearean quote, the passage in Julius Caesar beginning: "Cowards die many times before their deaths".

Mandela has said: "Education is the most powerful weapon which you can have to change the world."

He is right. It may not be necessary to be well-educated in order to succeed in life but it is beyond argument that society as a whole prospers to the extent that its people are exposed to decent levels of education.

Success may be measured in many different ways, not all of them material. But in the 21st century it must surely be clear that to improve living standards, longevity, security, the quality of water and air and the safety of travel it is essential that populations be well educated.

Sound basic education prepares people for useful and productive lives as professionals, tradesmen, salesmen, builders, teachers themselves, home-makers, managers, truck drivers and so on.

Education is vital also to the raising of the generations ahead. All studies show that, while there are no guarantees, the offspring of the better educated have far greater prospects of being well educated, pursuing successful careers and enjoying happy family life.

Again, there are never any guarantees, but the odds must always favour the better educated. That is why responsible parents battle and sacrifice to provide their children with the best possible education.

It is a justified and frequent accusation that blacks under apartheid were denied access to quality education which put them at a huge disadvantage. Whites were the beneficiaries of a world class educational system which produced Nobel laureates in the sciences and arts, founders of great companies, both local and multinational, lawyers and doctors who achieved eminence around the world and many others distinguished locally and internationally.

They were the beneficiaries of the dedication of generations of teachers who schooled them rigorously and caringly and, when necessary, disciplined them strictly.

However our ANC rulers, immediately on gaining power, saw fit not to extend this great teaching tradition, previously reserved for whites, to black kids so that they, too, could grow and develop to their full potential.

No, they introduced some gobble-de-gook called Outcomes Based Education which had failed everywhere it had been tried and is today a sad memory of children denied proper teaching, from which loss they will suffer all their lives.

A generation of experienced and committed white teachers was pensioned off, an irreplaceable loss to public education. Highly effective teacher training colleges were shut down as were nurses training colleges and today we see the results of such mindless inability to keep from the past what was good while ditching the evil.

An Economist Intelligence Unit study says that the 10 best countries to be born in today are: Switzerland, Australia, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Singapore, New Zealand, Canada and Hong Kong. It is not a coincidence that they all possess excellent education systems.

Our class divides will worsen as, for those who can afford it, there is still excellent education available in SA. For the poor majority, whose children need it most, there is only the broken state model. This is a recipe for disaster.

* This article was first published in Sunday Times: Business Times