Reforming SA's school system is possible: CDE

2011-09-08 16:00

Johannesburg - Reforming South Africa's schooling system was possible within six years with political leadership, according to a Centre for Development and Enterprise (CDE) report.

"The country needs bold political leadership and a new social compact to improve the quality of schooling. South Africa desperately needs much better outcomes," said CDE executive director Ann Bernstein in the report, released on Wednesday.

The report, "School Reform is Possible: Lessons for South Africa from international experience", summarises discussions held in April with experts from Brazil, Ghana, the United States and India, where significant schooling reforms were implemented.

The CDE said South Africa was struggling to turn its large and complex education system around, with 12 million pupils, 350 000 teachers, and more than 30 000 schools in 70 districts and nine provinces.

SA fares poorly

Four education ministers since the advent of democracy in 1994, keen to make a break with the unequal apartheid-era education system, had each introduced different education policies.

The message was that education would take people out of poverty, but in spite of between 5 and 6% of the country's GDP being allocated for education, South Africa fared poorly.

Drawing on the experiences of the four countries represented at the discussions, Bernstein said it was possible to reform South Africa's schooling system within six years, but it requires resolve, leadership and commitment.

Some of the measures presented at the discussions were:

Brazil: A bonus system for principals, managerial staff and teachers which was pegged to students' performance, repetition and dropout rates, and their own attendance; teachers being allocated a certain number of off days for personal matters with promotion linked to not taking the maximum number and teachers having to pass an exam in their own subject.

US: In Denver, a district where three quarters of the pupils were from poor families and were "people of colour", one of the changes in approach was to make teaching a prestigious career that attracted the best school and college graduates.


Ghana: They found the impression had always been created that with reform everything had to be started from scratch, when there were already commonalities introduced by various governments. Recognising the positive outcomes of past reforms could have saved the country's resources. They found that teachers were reluctant to go to rural areas because there was no proper accommodation or piped water. They introduced NGO-funded interventions, but did not sustain them - a common problem.

Ghana also introduced continued teacher development to keep them up to date.

They also advised that when it came to signing a memorandum of understanding with unions: "...if you cannot provide, don’t sign".

India: They turned evaluations in Kerala - tests and exams - into a "learning activity" by having a non-evaluation activity before the test to put the child at ease.

This helped children from poor families write scholarship exams without feeling threatened or intimidated.

Teacher absenteeism

The questions, even in mathematics, were based on real-life situations and experiences which made them more meaningful for pupils and provided a different basis for assessment.

It also helped achieve educational goals beyond basic literacy and numeracy.

India must educate about 200 million children, and train about 800 000 new teachers.

One of the problems identified in South Africa was teacher absenteeism.

"South Africa will not succeed in turning our schooling system around if we continue to have teachers who are present three to four days a week, teach very little but remain employed and receive the same pay as everyone else," said Bernstein.

She said teachers should not be made the scapegoat for a badly managed system, but sectional issues should not take priority over education.

  • Brian - 2011-09-08 16:22

    VIVA Home Schooling VIVA!!!

      The Observer - 2011-09-08 19:19


  • jakkals - 2011-09-08 16:26

    At the end of the day, our government is brilliant to draft improvements on everything. But the implementation thereof fails time and again either due to corruption, unqualified people or lack of interest to see it through. They are dumping millions of Rands into the education system and yet we achieve the lowest scores when it comes to the global standard of education. Again, start at the basics. Get rid of teachers who is NOT qualified to begin with, and those who simply does not work. Many people choose to study to educate, as they think it's a 8-2 job and with holidays galore. In actual fact their job doesn't end when the bell rings. It marking and setting up question papers, preparing for tomorrow ect. GET RID OF THOSE WHO DOES NOT LIVE UP TO BE IN THESE POSITIONS! Oh wait, then the unions will be up in arms. Thank you again for SA's overkill labor legislation.

  • Dicey - 2011-09-08 17:23

    Of course it's possible, but for the ruling government it's UNDESIRABLE. A properly educated population will understand the corruption charges in the media, the reasons for poor service delivery, & the wishy washy campaign promises. An uneducated population will believe in witch doctors, listen to the 'chosen' elders without question, & fall for big stories & lies ... all of which are used to get votes by the ANC. Why would they mess up a good thing by educating these people?

  • maseratifitt - 2011-09-08 18:13

    Reforming South Africa's schooling system was possible within six years with political leadership...and within two years without political leadership.

  • jvl - 2011-09-08 18:14

    What standards do these other countries use for a passrate,do their pupils also have so many rights,and so little responsibility.What type of discipline is used to ensure the least disruptions in a class?Are their learners employable when they finish school?We can look around and find ways to reform everywhere.We have tried many ways, we need to go back to basics,children listen,teachers teach no exceptions,no excuses for bad behaviour,homework done ore penalties will be assigned.Parent responsible for childs moral and ethical behaviour,no debate about it.If children misbehave give parents a fine,all schools need money.

  • The Observer - 2011-09-08 19:19

    political leadership, hahahaha never.

  • letsee - 2011-09-08 20:10

    BUt... there is no political leadership.

  • Tronn - 2011-09-09 07:45

    Every day we read a similar comment: It used to work in the past. Why doesn't it work now? Education worked before because teachers chose a career that they were passionate about. Unruly kids were taken to the principal and disciplined. If necessary these kids were expelled from the school. Teachers received their salaries at the end of each month. Teachers were monitored by the School board to ensure they were doing their jobs. That was then. Now, the education system is in the same mess as all the other government departments, EXCEPT: SARS. Ask your self why SARS operates efficiently? If SARS can be efficient, then in theory, so can the other departments. Therefore the incompetence and corruption in the other departments has to be deliberate. We know it all worked it the past , but the past is the past. What are we going to do to rectify the future??????

  • Badballie - 2011-09-09 09:10

    the only problem here was that we allowed the ANC to get their grubby little hands on the education system in the first place. pre 1994 our Matric certificate was accepted internationally and was all that was really necessary to go overseas to find greener pastures, now its not worth anything anywhere in the world including South Africa, why?.....cause the ANC couldn't get their own people up to internationally accepted standards so they dropped the standard. Almost every change made by the ANC when they came into power has had to be reversed over the last 17 years leaving us with exactly the same standards as when we handed them power with the added worry of 17 years wondering in the wilderness. Drive these idiots out of power and out of this country

  • eloffler - 2011-09-09 10:53

    Reform needed? Please any white who spell a few words know that the black mentality is genetically incapable of absorbing any decent education, now and forever more. If they were so, they would have formed their own many years ago and not blamed the white race. A bastard, genetically incapable race always tries to blame another as their fictional "oppressor". Blacks deem themselves oppressed because they can't just criminally and tribally take what what the far more intelligent whites have built for themselves. Oh, of course they're ripping off our taxpayers money full-time, but we have the cowardly Afrikaaner government to blame for being so lowly stupid to have given it to them.

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