Education is moving forward

2013-02-28 00:00

I READ with great interest an article reporting on the utterances of the respected Professor Jonathan Jansen about the state of education in the country (The Witness, February 21). Professor Jansen is entitled to his views and his freedom of expression is guaranteed by our Constitution.

I have great respect for him as a fellow citizen and for his academic achievements. I have a few difficulties, though, with his speech. The first problem is the one-sidedness of his approach on this serious and sensitive issue in our country. His approach is that of seeking to portray public education as failing in every respect — even in an announcement of matric results.

He portrays himself as the only person knowing of and seeing problems in the education system, which is clearly not the case. This is partly why he could not mention that a decision has been taken to form a ministerial committee to review the current 30% pass mark.

Secondly, in the biggest statement made public by the current administration so far, the National Development Plan (NDP), there is clear acknowledgement that education remains the single most serious challenge of our democratic dispensation over and above poverty, unemployment and inequality. The NDP document highlights poor outcomes in education at different levels such as early childhood development (ECD), primary and secondary education, as well as in mathematics and physical science.

The government has made many statements publicly, not only describing challenges in education, but taking practical steps to resolve them. The question is, where is the denial on the part of the government that Jansen speaks of? Jansen regards the functions where matric results are announced as a circus. I am not sure about this. During these functions, figures reflecting numbers of candidates sitting for matric, those who pass and those who fail, including those who pass with grades that enable them to pursue bachelor studies, are revealed.

These functions become a platform to celebrate the 13 years of schooling of those children who are successful; it marks their achievement. The private sector also uses this platform to lend support to needy pupils.

Universities have their own graduation ceremonies all the time and they have their own failure rates. Even at universities, we don’t have an ideal system as yet, but we can’t call them a circus.

Schools like Menzi High School, which Jansen mentioned, and many others in townships and rural areas are fast moving to the level of former Model C schools and we are running programmes to make this happen. We have a concept called Model Schools, where we incentivise high-performing schools by giving them more resources and have them work closely with the head office. We target schools that do well despite the odds. We are literally moving these schools from the apartheid trenches to post-freedom education. I am also certain that recent resolutions (on education) by the ruling party at its Mangaung conference will impact positively on the education system.

There are many developments and initiatives that are under way. Failure to acknowledge them and constant harping on the challenges in education is unprofessional, and will not help anyone.

• Senzo Mchunu is the MEC for Education in KwaZulu-Natal.

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