It is a common fact that South Africa has a diverse society with learners growing up in a first and third world environment where minorities have first class facilities and the majorities have to receive major assistance from the government to develop into schools of excellence. This is in my opinion an ongoing process with problems in certain provinces and schools highlighted by the media almost every month. In order to rectify these problems and to adhere to and apply to the Constitutional framework, the Government published a draft Action Plan in 2008 to strengthen weak areas in the education system. [See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Education_in_South_Africa (Action Plan 2014) paragraph 10]. The said Action Plan draws direction from the Improving Government Performance: Our approach document. [See http://www.thepresidency.gov.za/learning/gov_performance.pdf]. The purpose of this Strategic Plan is to improve performance in certain identified areas so that learners will benefit from a higher quality education. School graduates will leave school with better skills and knowledge and therefore have a better chance of achieving their potential within society. [See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Education_in_South_Africa (Action Plan 2014)].
The national education system needs to achieve certain goals by 2014 in terms of the draft Action Plan. The long-term vision of quality education in schools is that the national education system needs to achieve all its goals by 2025. This is why the vision is called Schooling 2025. Schools and communities need to come up with strategies that best suit their own situation. The Minister of Basic Education Mrs. Angie Motshekga announced on 2 January 2013 that the national Grade 12 pass rate for 2012 was 73.9%, an increase of 3.7% on the 2011 results. [See http://www.politicsweb.co.za/politicsweb/view/politicsweb]. According to her it is the fundamental objective of the Action Plan to improve learner performance and that Government will continue to focus on strategic priorities contained in the Annual National Assessments (ANA), CAPS, Workbooks and infrastructure. Part of the Government’s draft Action Plan is to measure progress through ANA, that is to establish an objective national benchmark by which to measure literacy and numeracy achievement levels in primary schools. Learners in grades 1 to 6 will therefore write national tests annually in mathematics and two languages to assess improvements. Similar test were introduced for grade 9 learners in 2011.
The draft Action Plan states that it has 27 goals. The goals are the output goals focusing on minimum quality, standards, output goals focusing on improving average performance, output goals focusing on access and progression, teacher, learner resources, whole-school improvements, school funding and school infrastructure and support services goals. [See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Education_in_South_Africa (Action Plan 2014)]. Mrs. Motshekga said the following in her statement: ‘On the whole, from both the 2012 ANA and matric results we can confidently assure parents and learners that we are moving forward. This is more reason for celebrating our gains in education while consolidating our advances as promised in the 2012/13 Budget Vote Speech for Basic Education.’ [http://www.politicsweb.co.za/politicsweb/view/politicsweb paragraph 91].
The Department of Basic Education discussed the improvement in the pass rate on their website under the heading The Matric Pass Rate. When should we celebrate? [http://www.education.gov.za/Home/MatricPassRate/tabid/ ]. They state in paragraph 8 the following: ‘So is there any cause for celebration when our matric pass rate improves? Yes, if this means that more youths have a certificate that provides access to further studies or employment. Moreover, the fact that the average mark in certain individual subjects should have increased, for instance from 35% to 38% in life science (formerly biology) between 2009 and 2010 does provide an indication that learners are learning better and this should also be celebrated.’
However, many experts are of the opinion that a focus on matric pass rates can be misleading. In his article, ‘Focus on matric pass rates is misleading, say experts’, Nickolaus Bauer wrote that the quality of results achieved by the 2012 matrics remains a concern notwithstanding a 3.7% increase in the pass rate. He states that experts are of the opinion that there should be more emphasis on the quality of South Africa’s pass rates. He quoted Professor Ruksana Osman, the Head of Wits University’s School of education who said that we need to investigate how well the matric’s are doing instead of how many are passing. [http://mg/co.za/article/2013-01-02-focus-on-matric-pass-rates-is-misleading-say-experts/ ].
The Equal Education Organisation is also of the opinion that we need to do further research into the pass rate by establishing whether our students are just scraping through, the problem areas and what steps can be taken to rectify the situation. According to this article, Basic Education Director-General Bobby Soobrayan said that the standard achieved would only get better if progress is made in improving the capacity of all of the schools in the system, especially the schools in the poorer areas. Many overcrowded schools make it difficult for learners to develop to their full potential. In this regard, an article on overcrowding in Kwazulu-Natal schools emphasizes this big problem. On 12 February 2013 an article named ‘KZN schools overcrowded – Report’ by SAPA reported on this phenomenon in Kwazulu-Natal. [http://www.iol.co.za/news/south-africa/kwazulu-natal/kzn-schools-overcrowded-report/ ]. According to this article the Kwazulu-Natal schools were overcrowded and that in 934 schools the average class size was 55 learners and above. The article goes further by saying that the Education Head blamed the overcrowding problems to migration from rural to urban areas.
It seems that the Government has put in place many initiatives since 2008 to better school results, the main initiative the vision called “Schooling 2015”. The Department of Basic Education’s Action Plan has resulted in better matric passing rates over the last four years. It has taken a long time for the matric results to improve since Malherbe’s statement and the quality of education is still an issue. The Minister of Basic Education has announced that a task team will investigate the standard of South Africa’s National Senior Certificate examinations in 2013. The fact that there are still many overcrowded schools will have the result that many learners will fall through the net and they will not be able to achieve their potential within modern society with all its demands and complexities. The reality is that these learners will not get proper schooling they deserve in contrast with schooling given in other public schools and private schools with much smaller class learner size and with more resources. However, more money must be allocated for education and the relevant departments should endeavor to use these funds to rectify any immediate infrastructure, text books and personnel issues on a very short time scale in order to comply with the Constitution. Non-compliance will be in breach of sections 29 and 9 of The Constitution of the Republic of South Africa section 29 establishing equal educational opportunities for all and section 9 of the Constitution establishing the equality principle of no discrimination.
News24 reported on 8 August 2013 in the article Zille grasps SA education that “Western Cape Premier Helen Zille understands the problems bedeviling the South African education sector, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga said …” According to the article, Zille told the DA Young Professionals Forum she was an “unlikely defender” of Motshekga, because “the real problems leading to poor education results in South Africa had been diagnosed under Motshekga.” Having seen professional teachers operating in a local school, I can confirm that this is indeed the case. The teachers are highly qualified and professional and work within the parameters of the draft Action Plan. Learner discipline is one of the major issues, but it is my view that it is only a big problem in a limited number of schools in our country. Principals, deputy principals and teachers are extremely innovative and are working out relevant strategies to deal with these issues on a weekly basis. I have seen this in operation in an excellent local school, well disciplined and good organized overall. Out-of-line learners are being dealt with expeditiously and in accordance with the school’s Code of Conduct. This is the reason why this and many other schools have a 100% pass rate. Hard working learners are given the chance to excel and others are being encouraged to achieve higher marks. Learners, who have passed grade 12 and reaped laurels elsewhere, are mentioned during staff meetings and hall gatherings to encourage the present learners.
Good news is where people respect each other, but really good news is where a political party like the DA “shows the highest levels of integrity in terms of inter-governmental relations” to quote Motshekga. There are according to me still much to be done, but supporting each other on this important issue, priceless!
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