Improving the quality of education

2009-11-09 00:00

THE National Business Initiative (NBI) has been holding discussions about the private sector’s contributions towards the improvement of school-based education. The corporate sector contributes in excess of a billion rand each year in a variety of different projects. The NBI’s own project is called Equip, an acronym for education quality improvement partnerships. It has been conducted for more than a decade in 500 schools in eight provinces, its objective being to improve the quality of education offered. It focuses on governance, management and curriculum delivery and there is no doubt that the schools, teachers and pupils in the target schools have benefited enormously.

More than R50 million has been contributed by NBI members to this project. Many of these companies, and a lot more, also engage in corporate social investment (CSI) projects of their own design. Some support schools by paying for classrooms and other facilities, others provide training for teachers, some provide nutritional programmes for children, or bursaries, or not uncommonly, computers and related facilities. The concern is that although these projects make a significant and constructive impact on the particular school communities that benefit from them, the national education environment remains fraught with deficiencies and failures.

A list of descriptions of the problems in education prior to 1994 is as relevant now as it was then with only one significant change — the omission now of the fragmentation of the apartheid departments. For the rest, including teacher morale, lack of adequate facilities, indifferent pass rates and so on, the list might have been compiled in 2009. Our country spends more than any other in Africa, bar one, on education and yet in any index of its effectiveness, we lag behind other African countries that are poorer and less developed. Experience shows that the critical factor if education is to be effective is the quality of teaching and its management in schools. Various research reports have shown that the size of classes is nowhere near as

material, while in defiance of logic, some excellently-performing schools are rural and poorly resourced. This cannot be presented as an excuse, however, for not making every conceivable effort to ensure that the teaching and learning environment is facilitated by hospitable, if not comfortable, facilities. There are a number of factors that have aggravated the problem of poor teaching. Good teaching methodology was not promoted in Bantu education which was intended to be of poorer quality. Later, the matric examinations with all the

answers were in the text book, allowed indifferent teachers to abdicate their teaching role by simply referring to the relevant pages.

Of course, when it transpired that education departments and schools were failing to provide each pupil with the necessary text books, the situation reached dire proportions. It must be remembered, too, that in a display of quite illogical senselessness, education authorities closed down teacher training institutions, many of which had developed enviable reputations as post-school academic centres. The introduction of Outcomes-Based Education (OBE) threw many teachers into confusion because it was a system, inundated with jargon and procedure, which was difficult to understand, let alone operate successfully within. Such were the procedural and technocratic demands that ordinary teachers found it difficult to cope with. Attempts at retraining in line with new expectations often failed. When taken out of school for this training, a vacuum is created which compounds the problems in schools. In fact, according to their contracts of employment, teachers are obliged to be available for a period during the school holidays in order for professional development to be undertaken. That this happens very seldom, if at all, is attributable to the fact that departments cannot get organised well enough to provide the required notice. No doubt, there would be an outcry anyway. This brings me to suggest that the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu), in particular, has done a great deal to systematically remove from the mindset of teachers any vestige of service, calling or professionalism so that teaching has become just another job with the characteristic tensions between employer and employee.

Whether we like to admit it or not, we are back to square one. Thank goodness for the efforts of the private sector which offer some ray of hope to some schools and pupils at least.

• Andrew Layman is a former headmaster and now the CEO of the Pietermaritzburg Chamber of Business.

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