SOUTH AFRICAN EDUCATION – IS IT FAILING YOUNG SOUTH AFRICANS?
Education and educational institutions in South Africa have been in the spot light in recent weeks and therefore begs the questions “Are young South African receiving an adequate education?” and “What is wrong with the education system in South Africa?”
In my opinion there is not a definitive answer. For those families who live in areas in close proximity to former Model C schools or can afford to send their children to private schools where they write Independent Examinations Board examinations do normally receive a high standard of education with good sporting facilities. However, the majority of the population living in the townships and former homelands receive a dismal education with minimal sports facilities.
How bad is the education system in South Africa?
In my opinion it is, in the main, in a chaotic state. A major concern is that only about fifty percent of the scholars who start in Grade 1 eventually complete their matric successfully. Of the 1.1 million children who entered grade one in 2002 only 550 000 reached matric (50%). That means for every 100 students that started school 12 years ago, only 48 of them reached Matric, 36 passed and 14 qualified to go to university. A major concern is that of learners who started Grade 10 in 2012, and who achieved their National Senior Certificate (Matric) in 2014, was just 37.9% nationally.
Figures released by the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) 2015 Global Information Technology Report ranks South Africa’s Maths and Science education last in the world. Business people were asked “How well does the educational system in your country meet the needs of a competitive economy?” South Africa ranked 139 of 143 countries, ahead only of Egypt, Angola, Yemen and Libya. Last year, when South Africa scored very low in the rankings, the Minister rejected the ratings, saying that the report was not scientific. While it is true that no tests are written for this ranking, it does gauge the perceptions of top business people on the quality of our education system.
The poor mathematics results achieved by Grade 9 learners in the Annual National Assessments (ANA) of 2014 are an indication of the standard of mathematics in South African public schools. Only 3% of Grade 9 learners were determined to be numerate at a grade-appropriate level -a far cry from the presidential target of 60%. The average score for the Grade 9 mathematics assessment was 10.8%.
These dismal results are not limited to schools the graduation rate among undergraduate students in South Africa’s 23 public universities is 15 percent.
The rate for Master’s students is 20 percent and for doctoral students 12 percent. These figures are contained in the Department of Higher Education and Training’s first annual statistical report, published in 2014, which looked at the “size and shape of post-school education and training in South Africa”. These rates have ranged from 15 percent to 20 percent for several years now.
As highlighted in a previous edition the basic facilities are sadly lacking with of the 24 793 public ordinary schools:
- 3 544 schools do not have electricity, while a further 804 schools have an unreliable electricity source;
- 2402 schools have no water supply, while a further 2611 schools have an unreliable water supply;
- 913 do not have any ablution facilities while 11 450 schools are still using pit latrine toilets;
- 22 938 schools do not have stocked libraries, while 19 541 do not even have a space for a library;
- 21 021 schools do not have any laboratory facilities, while 1 231 schools have stocked laboratories;
- 2 703 schools have no fencing at all; and
- 19 037 schools do not have a computer centre, whilst a further 3 267 have a room designed as a computer centre but are not stocked with computers.
What is the cause of these problems?
Without a doubt much of the blame can be laid on the 1953 Bantu Education Act especially the now infamous speech by Dr Verwoerd when was Minister of Native Affairs in charge of African education limiting the Black academic curriculum to basic literacy and numeracy because Africans were meant to be ‘hewers of wood and drawers of water’. This was exasperated by the decision not to build any schools in Soweto between 1962 and 1971. When it became obvious that the Black urban population was not returning to the homelands 20 new schools were built in a three year period. During these years the government was spending R644 per year on white pupils and only R42 on black pupils.
The government’s inability to control the South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu). It is important to recognise that Sadtu officials are elected through a highly political process – they are not appointed because of their educational expertise. Sadtu has in the past blocked the introduction of performance contracts for school principals, essentially stonewalling any attempt to hold principals to account on poor performance. Now the union has succeeded in postponing the Annual National Assessments one of the only tools we have to assess literacy and numeracy of our children and in the process, any interventions aimed at improving the quality of education.
Sadtu also appears to have a strangle hold on the appointment of teachers and principals, preferring to appoint those who can pay or who have political influence rather than those who are adequately qualified and have experience. It is high time that the Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga, draws a line in the sand and shows Sadtu that they may not hold education or the futures of children hostage.
There is a total breakdown of discipline in schools. Learners do as they want and the teachers are unable to control them. Bringing knives and even guns to school is not unusual in these days. Disciplining a learner for using dagga is a long drawn out process. The reply to a parliamentary question indicated that in most provinces, learners who commit serious crimes, including theft, rape, assault or drug dealing, are hardly ever expelled. This helps to explain why many teachers and learners continue to be terrorised by thugs and gangsters on a daily basis.
The fact that learners, university students and educators start striking, demonstrating or toy toying means that many hours of lesson are lost. The right to strike as stated in the constitution should be counter balanced by the obligation for a decent education.
There is a chronic shortage of well qualified teachers especially for the teaching of Maths and Science. A reply to a DA parliamentary question has revealed that one-in-four South African schools do not offer Mathematics in grades 10, 11 or 12.
The number of teachers employed by the state in ordinary schools in SA in 2014 was 390 608. The number of SGB-employed teachers is given by the DBE as 62 343. This equates to approximately 13.8% of all teachers in our ordinary schools in SA. It is critical to note that 81% of our schools are non-fee-paying and, for the most part, certainly cannot afford to pay extra teachers. Only 19% of schools of our schools can charge fees and can potentially employ additional teachers. This means that our fee-paying schools are employing an average of 14 SGB teachers each.
The lack of sufficient teachers, the resultant large classes and inability to offer the additional assistance that many of our children need will, without doubt, be a factor contributing to the dysfunctionality of education for the poor who are those most in need of a decent education.
Can these problems be corrected?
Of course the country can, if it has the political will, create a world class education system through embarking on the following changes immediately.
Introducing legislation to regard teaching as an essential service, teachers’ right to strike should be balanced with the best interests of learners. The department of education must once again take control of education and not be held ransom by trade unions, particularly Sadtu;
- Ensuring that all teachers pass competency tests before they start teaching, and then regularly thereafter. Too many teachers across South Africa cannot even pass the tests they themselves set for pupils;
- Conducting rigorous competency testing for matric markers ensuring that examination results are credible and accurately reflect the ongoing improvements within the education system;
- Eliminating the political appointment of teachers and school principals as well as the interference of trade unions in these appointments;
- Placing greater emphasis on reading, writing and numeracy especially in the early grades because learners who do not “learn to read will be unable to read to learn” in the higher grades and increasing the grades to pass examinations to 50%;
- Introduce stricter discipline in schools. We can no longer allow schools to deteriorate from places of learning to dens on inequity. I personally believe that a controlled form of corporal punishment should be reintroduced into schools. I do not buy the “bleeding heart” philosophy that six of the best would breed violence. Violence and indiscipline has grown exponentially since the abolition of corporal punishment;
- There also needs to be greater discipline for those teachers who arrive at school late, or worse still arrive drunk or even worse have sexual relations with learners. This ill discipline indicates that the wrong people have been hired by education departments. Those contributing to the failure of educating South Africa’s children should be disciplined or dispensed of;
- Government has to ensure that the backlog in infrastructure is eliminated without delay. However based on the pace of progress made so far, it will take a further 17 years to replace inappropriate schools, 6 years to provide sanitation, 9 years to provide electricity, and 9 years to provide water to the schools identified.
If South Africa is to prosper, eliminate poverty and unemployment we must ensure that we have a first class education system in order to reach the economic growth rate of 8% required to achieve this. In order to attain the objectives government should eliminate wasteful expenditure and corruption. Imagine how many schools could have toilets for the cost of Nkandla……
All learners, regardless of their background, deserve to learn in schools with proper classrooms, running water, electricity and proper sanitation. South Africa owes it to them.
Until next time;
This newsletter is published by Clive Hatch former Leader of the Opposition in the Mpumalanga Provincial Legislature and former DA Provincial Leader. These views are my personal views and do not represent those of any other person or organisation.