There are a multitude of problems when it comes to our schooling system. Money has been thrown at the matter but it certainly hasn’t provided results, nor is the issue text books (although receiving text books on time would help). In this article I explore the real problems behind South Africa’s education crisis.
The magnitude of the problem
The minister of basic education has been quoted as saying that the standard of education is slowly improving presumably this is based on the matric pass rate hovering around the 70% mark over the last few years. Is this really cause for celebration though? Looking at the number of pupils who pass matric having entered the schooling system twelve years earlier a starkly darker picture is depicted. ‘Out of all the students that were in grade 2 in 2001, only 38% passed matric in 2011.
The vast majority drop out between grades 10 and 12’ (Polticsweb). We all know what happens to the 62%; they add to the masses of poorly skilled youth that line the unemployment queues. So then the 70% pass rate isn’t very compelling after all. The high drop out rate in the latter years of secondary education is caused by poor or very low quality education in grades 1 to 10 as students are ‘condoned’ to the next grade without acquiring the required basic skills or knowledge.
This shockingly low standard of education in primary schools has been demonstrated in a number of headline grabbing international bench mark literacy and numeracy examinations. Just recently South Africa ranked second last in the world when it comes to mathematics and science education ahead of only Yemen, according to a World Economic Forum report.
This is backed up by earlier benchmark examinations such as the 2003 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study where South African grade 8 students were ranked last out of 50 countries in math and science. In trying to address this issue back in 2011 the Department of Basic Education implemented the Annual National Assessments (ANA), testing children from grades one to six using standardised exams for each grade.
The results have shown a stunning lack of basic numeracy with simple measurement questions yielding very low correct answers.
Is the answer money then?
Prior to 1994 the amount spent per white learner was two and a half to five times higher than the amount spent on a black child. Government has done a great job in equalizing the spending per child across all racial group. But does the increased spending translate into positive results? Government expenditure on education is the largest single item in the budget. What is interesting though is that low income countries spend far less on education but perform better than South Africa when it comes to international benchmark examinations.
For example South Africa spends almost five times as much per pupil compared to Kenya but Kenya’s pupils perform significantly better on functional literacy rates according to Southern African Consortium for Monitoring Educational Quality report. Clearly spending more money on education will not increase the standard of education especially considering the fact that the vast majority of the education budget (78%) goes towards teacher’s salaries.
The solutions to our education crisis rests in two parts; improving the standard of lower grades and better equipped teachers. Firstly this trend of ‘condoning’ students to the next grade must stop. This is not benefiting the school nor the child. All this produces is a grossly unqualified learner that will struggle to cope with later grades hence our high drop out rate from grades 10 to 12. It is vital that learners come to grips with the fundamentals of literacy (meaning that they are able to read a simple text and extract meaning) and numeracy.
If this means a pupil has to repeat junior education so be it this it will be more beneficial in the long run. Secondly our teachers need to be equipped as they are the most important resource in a school. With the right teacher learners can learn without text books. In 2007 the Southern African Consortium for Monitoring Educational Quality performed a study on South African grade 6 mathematics and language teachers.
Out of 14 African Countries South African teachers were ranked 9th behind many low income countries like Zimbabwe and Swaziland.
An outrageous 38% of South African grade 6 teachers got this simple graph interruption question correct. If teachers are this poorly equipped what chance do pupils have? Add to this the number of days teachers are absent from the classroom and clear picture is painted as to why our primary school children are performing so poorly.
The reality is the quality of education a child receives is still divided between the haves and the have not’s. In the poorest schools, only 1% of learners in grade 8 will go on to pass matric and obtain 60% or higher for Mathematics and Science while 10% of learners will do the obtain 60% or higher amongst learners that attended wealthier or ‘white’ schools. Regardless of race students with well off parents will receive higher quality education than children with improvised parents continuing the endless cycle of poverty.
This is by no means a hopeless situation though we just need to get the basics right and stop aimlessly focusing on just headline grabbing matric pass rates. Our teachers need to be retrained and the distribution of highly skilled teachers is skewed towards previously white schools or model ‘c’ schools. This skewed distribution needs to be corrected if an equal education for all is ever to be achieved.
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