As Angie Motshekga and her supporting troop of dancing monkeys bask in the warm glow of the dramatically increased Matric pass rate, South Africans who venture to question the numbers are worried. Justifiably so. In fact, they should be terrified of what the sideshow that calls itself the Department of Education is doing to our country. Our children are entering the world of work and tertiary education woefully underprepared, with qualifications worth less than the paper they are written on. Yet more concerning is the systematic erosion of the long-term competitive sustainability of business and, by extension, the overall economy of South Africa.
And what is the response of our learned Cabinet of clowns? Smug, self-congratulatory glee at their impending pay hikes, bonus payouts and luxury R1.3m German sedans which will surely follow to reward their collective ineptitude. The circus truly has come to town.
Because, you see, none of them have bothered to dig a bit deeper, to scratch beneath the quantitative surface of the seemingly miraculous trapeze act that is the turnaround of South African secondary education. If they did, they would discover that the 'turnaround' doesn't exist. That the pass rate is inflated beyond recognition, thanks to a touch of good old-fashioned sleight of hand. And, more importantly, that it says very little about the quality of our school-leaving qualification. Compare the Maths, Science and English literacy rates of our pupils to the rest of the world and South Africa scores dismally. Our education system has become a bastion of mediocrity, and not only are we unashamed of it, we are shouting it from the rooftops.
Consider the dilemma of the 30% pass mark. A lower pass mark means exam questions of lower complexity, requiring less of the higher order cognitive processes of reasoning, problem solving and critical thinking and more lower order functioning such as rote memorizing and reproduction. The lions and tigers in this production are systematically being replaced with parrots. Yes, the hoops in this act have become so large that even the elephants can stroll comfortably through them. In effect, we are producing a generation of school leavers with lower cognitive capability, with less ability to question, analyze and reason. And this has potentially long-lasting consequences, not only economically and socially, but also politically.
Our president is quick to leverage the falsely inflated pass rate in his 2014 election manifesto - proudly claiming it to be one of the many feathers in the ANC's illustrious cap. And perhaps there is good reason for that Cheshire cat grin as he languishes in the taxpayer-funded firepool at Corruption Manor. Forgive my cynicism, but could it be that he is having his cake and eating it? Not only does it look like his government is improving education in leaps and bounds. But quietly, beneath the surface, he is also benefiting from a majority electorate that will remain under-educated, and continue to lack in critical thinking. An electorate which is thus more likely to remain unquestionably loyal to his ruling party in years to come. Throw us a few bananas (or food parcels) just before the next election, and we're sure to buy a ticket to the next 5 years of his performance, right?
Perhaps we are not giving Mr. Zuma, the ringmaster of this fiasco, the credit he is due after all...