Reforming SA's school system is possible: CDE

2011-09-08 16:00

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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.


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