Too soon to celebrate

2014-01-12 06:01

Is high cost education the answer? Statistician-general Pali Lehohla writes that the future of quality education in South Africa lies in public schooling.

On Wednesday South Africa’s Matric results from the public schools were released.

This followed on the results of the Independent Examination Board (IEB) a week earlier.

The differences in the numbers were palpable.

More than half a million sat for the exams in public schools compared to ten thousand in the IEB.

Seventy eight percent passed the exams compared to ninety eight percent in the IEB. Thirty percent passed with university exemption compared to eighty four percent in IEB.

On the face of these disparate results and numbers, we can come to the conclusion that an IEB approach to education in South Africa is the answer to the woes which public schools suffer.

On Saturday 4th of January we laid to rest one of the young and best brains in South Africa.

At the time of his premature death at the age of 43, Dr Reginald Kgomotso Kganyago was the Chief Security Advisor at Microsoft South Africa and he also sat on the National Cyber Security Advisory Council of SA.

Before that he worked at the CSIR, StatSA and the University of Limpopo.

That he had a PhD and his tongue was quick to remind you of this important achievement was not news.

That he was an engaging brain, liked a good intellectual argument, and did not suffer fools was also not news.

What was news – for me at least – was the journey Kganyago took to acquire his PhD.

He started school in Seshego township at Dorothy Langa Lower Primary and Tsutsumetsa Higher Primary. From there he went to SJ van der Merwe Technical High School in Lebowakgomo and on to the University of the North for his BSc and Honours.

His PhD was in Solid State Physics and he obtained his Master’s, cum laude, on the same topic.

Professor Ngoepe, his mentor and promoter on his Masters and PhD, described how this young brain from the South rose to win arguments with others from the developed North.

The Seshego intellectual resolved a dilemma that two renowned scientists, one a Nobel Laurerte, could not resolve.

Silicon Valley had hoped to snap him up but he remained at the University of Limpopo where he exploited high speed computation capabilities from modern computers and solid state materials to generate solutions to the perplexing problem the two professors were researching.

Kganyago inspired three people from his neighbourhood, in Zone 4, Seshego, to obtain their own PhD. Many got their Masters.

Kganyago, although possibly gifted, proved that it was not necessary to be born with a silver spoon in your mouth to succeed.

When Deputy Governor of the South African Reserve Bank Lesetja Kganyago informed me of his brother’s death, I thought what a loss we have sustained.

He worked for StatsSA for five years, and continued to do so when he was at the CSIR, and still continued when he was at Microsoft South Africa.

His was a mission to solve society’s problems.

From his sick bed Dr Kganyago tweeted on October 24: “For now we see only a reflection as is a mirror, then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part, then I shall” 1 Corinthians 13:12.

He did not conclude the verse to say “see fully” but stopped at “I shall”.

Perhaps the matrics of the future could connect the dots and conclude the sentence. When that has been done “through knowledge shall the just be delivered.”

We should not rejoice yet over the matric results because those from our public schools are still lacklustre compared to those of the IEB.

A 30% throughput compared to the IEB’s 85% for university entry leave South Africans with nightmares to be seriously resolved through the National Development Plans.

It might be – that in addition to pupil and teacher discipline, better school management, responsible parenting and supervision, and undoing apartheid settlement patterns – that technology can resolve performance deficits in our education system, as Kganyago believed.

The days of a high cost solution to education are seriously numbered.

An experimental online, very low cost tuition provided by the United State’s University of Pennsylvania, an Ivy League institution, heralds the impending dangers hanging over the high-cost tuition path to resolving education.

The dawn of quality education at any level as a basic human right is now within reach, the question is how do we get the technology to work for us.

*Pali Lehohla is South Africa’s statistician-general and head of Stats SA

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