OUR VIEWPOINT: School-to-university link is broken

2015-05-20 09:29
Gauteng education MEC Panyaza Lesufi visits the Curro Private School in Pretoria in February. A group of parents lodged a complaint claiming that there was racial segregation at the school. Picture: Gallo

Gauteng education MEC Panyaza Lesufi visits the Curro Private School in Pretoria in February. A group of parents lodged a complaint claiming that there was racial segregation at the school. Picture: Gallo

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IT is alarming to read that more than half of those students who drop out of tertiary institutions do so in their first years.

Quoting the results of research done by the Council of Higher Education (CHE) over five years, Andre van Zyl, director of the Academic Development Centre at the University of Johannesburg, said that only a small number of students completed their degrees in the recommended number of years, and that 41% of those who entered a tertiary institution had dropped out. What is particularly concerning is that those who make it to tertiary education are presumably the cream — the top 18% — of those who matriculated the year before. The figures speak volumes for the quality of matriculants being produced by the education system, and they do not tell a good story.

The Basic Education Department’s insistence and focus on the number of matric passes, rather than the quality of these, is partly to blame.

The low pass rates required for certain subjects ensure that they can be passed at matric level, only for the matriculant to be completely stumped in the same subjects at first-year tertiary level.

Tertiary institutions have long been contending with this problem and some have resorted to offering “bridging” courses to struggling students — a euphemism for teaching them what they should have learnt at school, before they can move on to the degree course. The figures make it obvious that universities also need to examine their selection criteria, because the current screening processes are patently not working. Instead, the high first-year drop-out rate acts as a secondary selection process.

Van Zyl points to a broken link between schools and universities, which ensures that some matrics are unable to make the transition.

However, the attendant problems go beyond the academic — others include “life problems”, like housing, finance and food for students, which all cost money.

With education rightly touted as a way out of a life of poverty, it is understandable that so many matrics want access to tertiary institutions, but the government can only finance free study for a limited number. There are no easy answers

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