Punching for education

2015-05-04 10:30
Supporters of the Iraqi Communist Party take part in a May Day celebration held in Baghdad. May 1 is celebrated as the International Labour Day or May Day across the world.

Supporters of the Iraqi Communist Party take part in a May Day celebration held in Baghdad. May 1 is celebrated as the International Labour Day or May Day across the world.

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THE rags to riches stories of Floyd Mayweather Jr and Manny Pacquiao werer repeated in the buildup to yesterday morning’s boxing match billed as the “fight of the century”. It is a common narrative among sporting stars who come from underprivileged communities and who excel despite the odds. Both boxers, one from the U.S. and the other from the Philippines, have used sport to catapult them to worldwide fame and fortune. Mayweather had ­reportedly been paid $200 million (R2,4 billion) for the fight. South ­African sportspersons who achieve similar success also find themselves idolised and wealthy.But the majority of South African ­parents rank sporting success very low on their priority list for their children, if it makes it on the list at all.Last month hundreds of parents queued outside Randpark High School in Gauteng, some for days, to ensure their children were enrolled. This scenario is replicated at many suburban public schools in the country, the effects of poor education standards, so prevalent in many state schools.For most middle income parents their children’s education is a priority. They gravitate towards the better public schools and shun schools that are ­dysfunctional and poorly managed. Who can blame them.The World Economic Forum, in its 2013 Global Competitiveness Report, rated South African primary schools 132nd out of 144 countries, and 115th in access to primary school education. It has also found that the system is failing to achieve basic standards of numeracy and literacy in grades 3 and 6.But what has happened to those schools once considered bastions of learning and leadership by their communities?Countless South Africans have excelled thanks to public school education. Not all parents who enrol their children at independent schools can comfortably afford to do so. This is often done at great personal sacrifice.Nationally, between 2000 and 2010, the number of public schools fell nine percent while the number of independent schools rose 44%, according to the Independent Schools Association of Southern Africa. The migration to independent and suburban public schools has created a vacuum, especially in township schools that have closed down as a result of declining pupil numbers.But there are some township schools that buck this trend. Velabahleke Secondary School in Umlazi is one such school. Noted for its high matric pass rate, the school succeeds largely thanks to principal Mbongeni Mtshali and his staff. The dedication demanded from staff is also expected of pupils. Some classes start at the school at 6 am.Another Umlazi school, Menzi High, is also seen as a beacon of education.The school’s long-time principal Felix Mshololo died, aged 61, this year.Mshololo was celebrated for leading the school to a 100% matric pass in the past four years. When Mshololo was appointed ­principal at Menzi in 1990 the school’s pass rate was 34%.In 2010, 2012 and 2013, the school was recognised by the Department of ­Education.There is no quick fix for the problems at public schools.Delivery of equipment, material and infrastructure must be prioritised and the quality of teaching must improve.Most importantly, the department of education must increase the required pass rate. Those pupils who pass matric with 30% are being set up for failure. Maths literacy, the easier version of the mathematics subject, is simply not good enough and is indicative of the poor quality of the teachers in the education system. Pupils do not lack ambition but ­opportunity and denying them access to a functional education system serves to deny them the opportunity to contribute to the future of the country.Only a small minority of children will be successful in life by following in the footsteps of Mayweather or Pacquiao.But an education system that finds ways of dealing with the problems rather than opting for an easy out, like maths literacy, will ensure that future generations are given the opportunity to succeed.

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