I hope this letter reaches you in good health and you will have time and patience to read it.
I am a 20 year old man studying Bachelor of Social Science in Public Policy, International Relations and Media at UCT on my second year.
I write this letter summarize my education experience from primary school to high school and how it has shaped my understanding of your department, my country and the education system we currently have.
I come from the rural areas of Eastern Cape in a little village called Ngqeleni.
I remember when I started Grade 1. I and my peers were so happy because we had graduated from pre-school and now we were at “Esikolweni Esikhulu” (Primary School).
I woke up early every day and walked miles to school on an empty stomach and this became a ritual for my 9 years of primary school.
By Grade 4 most of us in class still could not read or write or count for that matter. “Fill in the missing words” one of the class-works that showed this because we all copied that line submitted out work.
I remember sitting in class not able to concentrate because the only thing I could think of was lunch hour so I could run and be first on the line for the school’s feeding scheme.
I also remember being named and shamed by the teacher who asked all those who have not paid school fees to stand up. A third of the class would, get beaten and sent home to fetch their parents to explain why fees have not been paid.
This was a case for almost all of us; our parents were and still are unemployed. And the only source of income we all had at our home was either child or old age grants from the government.
In 2007 public schools in my region were declared “no fee schools”. And we were overjoyed but that did not mean all is well
I continued with my studies but most of my classmates were forced to drop out by circumstances at home.
The struggle continued.
Our mud classrooms were overcrowded; a single teacher would teach a class with 63 learners. And this was the case from Grade 1 to 12.
In our neighbouring schools some were having their lessons under tree shades because there was no building which meant in winter or when it’s raining they get Holiday by default.
All of our schools had and still don’t have computer or book libraries.
Teachers do not want to come and teach to these remote schools because they are far from where they live and the is either no transportation to them or it’s hard to get a place where they can stay on permanent bases.
It’s not until I was in grade 6 when my English teacher introduced me to a programme ran by an NGO “READ”. READ’S motto was “A NATION THAT READS IS A NATION THAT WINS”.
That programme brought to us by an NGO helped us a lot. But it could not be offered to the rest learners at school.
To tell you now, all six of the students with me included who were picked for that programme are the only ones who got to Varsity from a class of 63.
In grade 10 I did not have a Math, Accounting and Business Studies teacher for a year. And this happened in a School that had 6 classes of Grade 10s who were without those teachers.
The following year I had to move to Western Cape to find “refuge” in Cape Town.
I still am that "education refugee" in the beautiful "Republic of Western Cape" under her majesty Helen Zille.
Not a lot changed but at least I had all teachers for all seven subjects.
For 12 years of my schooling life in EC and WC I was taught English in Xhosa. Again, this is the case for all South African students who go to Public School.
And this becomes a problem when we come to universities such as UCT which is dominated by English speakers. Communication and adjustment problems become prominent leading to drop outs or academic exclusions.
I loved my Grade 12 for one thing. The government started noticing it had learners to look after. And that is a huge problem that our government has. In South Africa this is what happens. The department of education with its ministers and MECs around the country even in Western Cape only realise that they have learners to look after when those learners are in Grade 12 (matric).
All provinces go into a fierce competition to get the highest passing rate. The competition is not at all bad, but it only proves to be disastrous
In 2011 the department got a 70,2% pass rate. But we should not be looking at that; The mathematics pass rate nationally in 2011 was 46,3%, down from 2010’s 47,4%. Accounting, physical science and other subjects continue to suffer. But provincial ministers don’t really care about that as long as the overall pass rate is good and they top other provinces for political points.
Few learners pass matric and qualify for university (below 30% ). Others passed badly, and end up at home doing nothing not even able to get jobs.
Those that enter university suffer too believe me or not. Matric learners get too much support in Grade 12 only. They pass with flying colours; enter University and apply for hard-core Degrees.
They end up failing and being excluded from those faculties they applied in. This is the problem. In all universities in South Africa many drop outs happen in first years. This is because the departments prepare leaners for university when in matric.
Fortunately, I was able to pass my Grade 12 and get accepted at UCT. But this is not the same case with most of my peers.
Most people would love to blame your department only and single you out minister as a failure. I sometimes do. But that is not the case.
Socio-economic issues not created by the department play a huge role in our education outcomes.
Eastern Cape and Western Cape for me were too different.
In Eastern Cape most people live in rural remote areas from the town. There are no proper roads or running water. People live on social grants because they are unemployed.
There, home situations force learners to drop out to either get married or work.
Whereas in Western Cape it’s different. Most people here live in Townships and suburbs. Schools are not remote and there is no difficulties getting to them.
And economically, Western Cape is way ahead of Eastern Cape with development. I dont mean to sound like Zuma but this is due to the legacy of apartheid.
Remember Eastern Cape had Bantustans who were enforcing Bantu Education. Western Cape did not have these Bantustans which means the schools's infrastructure in the province was provided by the main government. Thats why there were never mud-school or learners who studied under trees in WC.
Your department needs to coordinate its policies with department relevant to the issues I have mentioned.
Infrastructure in Eastern Cape needs to be improved. Jobs need to be created. Poverty needs to be alienated. Investment in bursaries for teachers needs to be increased. And these cant be done by your department only.
I hope by reading this letter you also managed to pick-up the damage that our Education system has done to me and think about how difficult Varsity must be.
Please dear Minister when you do think about me, also think about Millions of other South Africans who are currently under the same problems.