Ordinary citizens can help improve education

2017-01-09 11:02

Last week, matriculants of 2016 and South Africans with an interest in the state of our education system listened with interest as our Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga, reported on the results of the matriculation exams.

The nation was pleased to hear of the improvements in the overall pass rate at Grade 12 level, and it was particularly noteworthy that many of the best performing districts were in provinces that have traditionally not had access to the highest quality educational infrastructure and resources.

Both the Western Cape and Gauteng featured well, and the Free State, Limpopo and KwaZulu-Natal returned good results too. It is pleasing to see that there has been an improvement in the national matric pass rate, despite the many concerns that have previously been voiced regarding the lowering of the Mathematics pass rate and the progression of a large number of students who were at high risk of falling out of the education system.

The truth is, however, that South Africa still ranks 75 of 76 countries in terms of the quality of our education system, and has one of the most unequal schooling systems in the world.

For this reason, for many of the individuals and organisations working within the field of education, perhaps the most heartening and encouraging message delivered by Minister Motshekga was the recognition of the importance education holds in the achievement of not only UNESCO’s Sustainable Goals for Development, but the pivotal place which it holds in the realisation of our own National Development Plan, as well as her appeal to all citizens of South Africa to contribute to uplifting the standard of education in the country.

Amongst her comments, the emphasis on Early Childhood Development and Foundation Phase Learning stood out:

“The major root causes of dropping out of school towards the end of secondary school are weak learning foundations, and that therefore the most important priority must be to improve the quality of learning and teaching in the early Grades, so as to ensure that learners are equipped with the skills needed to cope with the curriculum at higher grades.”

Also noted was the severe negative impact that poverty, inequality and infrastructural inadequacies have in many of our schools.

This led to Minister Motshekga’s call to action to citizens:

“Fellow South Africans, we will be the first to concede that despite the notable improvements in the system, we are yet to cross our own Rubicon. We must agree that much has been achieved, but much more needs to be done in the area of efficiency and quality. We call upon all South Africans to work together with us to move public schooling to greater heights…The Governing Party has declared education to be a societal matter. Therefore, all hands must be on deck.”

The battle for quality education is far from over, and a far higher level of investment in our nation’s children is called for from all quarters of society.

There is only one way to sustainably and equitably alter the fortunes of our beautiful country for the better, and that is to invest heavily and effectively in the improved educational outcomes of our children. Such investment is not always reflected in grades – this, although currently the best we have, is unfortunately only a blunt measure. Rather, this investment is most accurately reflected by the number of children who are exiting our schools capable of living an economically active and self-sustaining adult life. The closer this number is to the number of learners who entered the school system in Grade 1, twelve years previously, the more successful we can claim the education system is.

The sad truth is that just over half of the learners (56%) entering Grade 1 are expected to reach matric, with the other half falling out along the way. Thus, this year’s national average pass rate of 76,2%, although laudable compared to previous years, means that of the approximately 1 100 000 pupils entering Grade 1 in 2004 (this number was not included in the report), only approximately 547 000 will leave the system with a matric pass. Along the wayside therefore, 553 000 young lives have lost their opportunity for a completed basic education.

In addition, this statistic refers only to the pass rate, and not to how many of those passes will qualify these learners for access to tertiary education (assuming that they would be able to afford this) or equip them adequately for working life. 

While it can undoubtedly be argued that it is possible to find work without a matric qualification, the research shows us that the higher one’s level of education is, the better remuneration can be expected in adult life, and the more active the contribution to a country’s economic well-being one will make.

So what should be done?

The answer is simple, although not easy. Every citizen of this beautiful country needs to make it a priority to support education, in one way or another.

Whether corporate, civil, religious; an organisation or individual, retiree or newly graduated; there are ways in which you can have a positive impact on education. If there is only one decision that you make in 2017, for the sake of the future of our country, let it be this: to reach out and support an initiative, either national or local, that strengthens the quality of our education system.

This simple act of citizenship will undoubtedly be one of the most personally rewarding and nationally important acts that you can do in this and future years.

This is not a matter of doing work “despite the government” – it is a matter of working to support the gargantuan efforts being made by the public education officials to address and transform a systemically flawed and very cumbersome system. It is a case of working together, with all our might, to save our children’s, and therefore our own, future.

The time for side-line commentary is long gone – it is time to move into the dust of the arena and actively engage in growing our country.

Below are listed a fraction of the organisations that work in education. My challenge to my fellow citizens is to make a meaningful contribution to the sustainability and manpower requirements of these or any other educational initiatives.

Breadline Africa: Infrastructure (container libraries, ECD centres) and community support: www.breadlineafrica.org

Bridge: Teacher and education support to schools: www.bridge.org.za

Columba: Youth Leadership Program: www.columba.org.za

Equal Education SA : Quantifies and seeks to address infrastructural issues at school: www.equaleducation.org.za

Help to Read: Tutoring program with a literacy focus: www.helptoread.org

Ikamva Youth: Maths tutoring programs: www.ikamvayouth.org

iSchool Africa: IT Solution and learning support: www.ischoolafrica.com

Lifeline: Runs psychological support programs to schools : www.lifelinesa.co.za

Molteno: Mother tongue language literacy initiative, assists with conversion to English language usage: www.molteno.co.za

Moves for Life: Chess programs to support critical thinking and education uptake: www.movesforlife.co.za

ORT Foundation: Technology education and vocational training initiatives : www.ortsa.org.za

Partners for Possibility: Partners business leaders with school principals with a focus on transforming school leadership and community cohesion to enable delivery of quality education by schools: www.PfP4SA.org

Protec: Runs STEM programs for schools nationally: www.protec.org.za

READ Educational Trust: Literacy programs : www.read.org.za

Read to Lead: Government literacy program: www.readtoleadtoday.org

Room to Read: Literacy program : www.roomtoread.org

Read to Rise: www.readtorise.co.za

SchoolNet South Africa: www.schoolnet.org.za

Teach SA : Trains young graduates from all fields to obtain a basic teaching qualification and spend 1-2 years passing their skills on to learners in under-resourced schools: www.teachsouthafrica.org

Thope Foundation: Mentorship and tutoring support to girls: www.thopefoundation.org

Ububele Education and Psychotherapy Trust: Psychotherapeutic support to schools: www.ububele.org   

- Dr Robyn Whittaker leads stakeholder engagement at Partners for Possibility, a transformational leadership development program.

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