The Joint Education Trust, the forebear of JET Education Services, was set up in 1992 by a remarkable partnership of leaders from South Africa’s corporate world, from the country’s major political parties, the trade unions and representative organisations of black business.
“We welcomed the formation of the Joint Education Trust in 1992… as a move inspired by patriotism and vision.”
Former President Nelson Mandela
Addressing the Joint Education Trust Annual General Meeting, 1996
A remarkable partnership
At the time, when South Africa was on the cusp of a new democratic era, this was a groundbreaking initiative. It was pioneered by business visionary Mr Mike Rosholt who won the commitment from 14 leading South African companies to provide R500 million [more than R1 billion in today’s currency] towards solving one of the greatest challenges that the new democracy would face – the restructuring of the country’s education system, then rife with the inequalities imposed by the apartheid government.
This commitment was not wholly altruistic. Business knew that its future success would depend on well-educated management and a skilled labour force, and on building a relationship with the emerging new government.
Despite an initial air of distrust and suspected hidden agendas, after more than a year’s negotiations and debate, the African National Congress [ANC], the other political parties and the unions accepted the bona fides of business and the Trust Deed was signed.
“It was quite amazing how JET started off. We all sat in our respective corners of the boxing ring, but ranged on two basic sides: big business on the one, and those political, trade union and educational organisations representing the communities on the other… Out of a candid examination and understanding of these positions, a working relationship developed. As a result, what started to happen on the JET Board was conduct based on trust… We developed a joint understanding that we were tackling the injustices of the past by looking to the future. JET was an undeniable agent of change.”
Former Board Member [representing the ANC] of the Joint Education Trust in Education Pathfinders - A short history of the Joint Education Trust 
The Board of Trustees of the Joint Education Trust drew equal representation from all the partners. Despite its diversity, the partnership worked from the first board meeting. The Trust’s successes were undoubtedly due, in the first instance, to this remarkable partnership. They were supported, however, by the management and staff appointed by the trustees to realise the Trust’s strategic objectives in the drive to create a unitary, non-racial education system with equal access to all.
“…JET has certainly been an overall success. Part of this success emanated from the quality of the people who were involved. Mike Rosholt, as chairman, was an exemplary leader.”
Professor Chabani Manganyi
Former executive director of the Joint Education Trust [1992-1994] Now advisor to the vice-chancellor of the University of Pretoria.
Founding Partners of the Joint Education Trust
Due to corporate restructuring, this list was subsequently enlarged with the inclusion of Amplats Limited, AngloGold, CG Smith Limited, and Reunert Limited. The National Education Coordinating Committee disbanded in 1995.
Focus of funding
Over a period of close to 10 years, the R500 million committed to the Joint Education Trust was disbursed in grants to more than 400 service providers in five focus areas:
- Early childhood development
- Adult basic education and training
- Vocational and further education
- In-service teacher training and development
- Youth development.
Over this time, the Trust supported in-service training for nearly 35 000 teachers, resulting in an improvement in the quality of education for nearly 2.5 million learners across the spectrum – from pre-school to adult education classes and from the most remote farm schools to poor township schools.
In addition, the R500 million invested by the Trust’s donor companies leveraged more than R680 million from international donors such as USAID, the European Union, DFID, DANIDA, the Royal Netherlands Embassy, the Ford Foundation and the Kellogg Foundation. The Trust’s management of these funds resulted in at least a doubling of the numbers of teachers trained and learners reached.
The Trust’s move towards financial self-sustainability, independent of its original trust funds, was seeded in the organisation’s founding agreement. From as early as 1997, the Trust began to cover a growing proportion of its operating costs from income derived through its non-grant-making work – from fees received for project and financial management undertaken on behalf of foreign and local funders, including government, and from its increasingly valued research services.
In 2001, after successfully discharging its founding mission, JET reviewed its role and shifted focus from fund disbursement to managing education and development projects. Similarly, in 2009, JET Education Services redefined its role amongst the new challenges and role players in education and revised its vision and mission accordingly.
The challenges in the complex arena of South African education remain enormous. In this context, JET continues to strive to make a real difference in the lives of some of South Africa’s poorest citizens. Consequently, it has increased its focus on education improvement, broadening the scope of its research and development work to include education planning, youth and communities and Further Education and Training College improvement.
JET thus continues to play a significant role in education research and evaluation. Its work is currently guided by “Vision 2015”, a strategy developed in 2009. The strategy refocused the organisation towards becoming a delivery support organisation, with a particular focus on improving the quality of education for the poor, and with an emphasis on research and knowledge‐based interventions. JET’s three strategic objectives were set:
- To demonstrate replicable, systemic education change models that can be used by government and its partners to improve the quality of public education in South Africa;
- To make a meaningful contribution to the education development knowledge base and to finding solutions to the national educational challenges;
- Run sustainable organisational operations that will increasingly strengthen JET’s organisational capacity and relevance in the education sector.