Better off than Bantu education?

2011-07-02 19:30

South African schoolchildren are shockingly illiterate and cannot do maths. Results from the Annual National Assessment tests on six million pupils in Grade 3 and Grade 6 show that only 12% of Grade 6 pupils can do maths properly.

The literacy rate for Grade 3s is 35% and for Grade 6s it is 28%.

Mpumalanga fares the worst, while the Western Cape scores at the top of the range.

Based on these statistics, we asked experts whether the schooling system in the country now is any better than it was during apartheid.

Professor Graeme Bloch of the School of Public and Development Management at Wits University, and dean of education at North-West University, Robert Balfour, answer our questions.

Are our children worse off than they were under apartheid/ Bantu education?
Graeme Bloch: No, they’re not. All the figures show they’re not. More of them get into secondary school and more of them get to matric.

So my bottom line is no, things are not worse despite common belief, except that the world has moved on. We can’t afford to be so far behind any more.

So I think things are better but the world has moved on. Depriving kids of rights in this era is even worse than in the apartheid era.

Robert Balfour: Learners in South Africa are unequivocally better off.
Bantu education was education for underdevelopment from which a whole generation of parents and educators alike still bear the consequences.

If the results are disappointing, that enables policy-makers and education specialists to work more effectively with the curriculum and the profession to address the needs in a more focused, and thus more efficient, manner.

What do you make of the national assessment results this week?
GB: I think they are a terrible tragedy.

They show that our kids are not getting the foundations of literacy and numeracy right. And that has implications right through the school system.

That 35% average probably also means some schools are getting 100% and other schools are getting 15%.

There are huge inequalities between rich and poor and black and white.

RB: The present set of
results confirm what teachers in the classroom know: that children are not reading at their age-appropriate levels, that resources for the achievement of age-appropriate reading levels are perhaps not as effective as we need them to be, or are even still in the process of being developed.

Reading and numeracy skills are still taught as separate areas, often on the basis of inadequate linguistic awareness and on the back of still inadequate teaching methods.

What are the key challenges facing our education system?

GB: To focus on foundations, to improve on numeracy and literacy, to get teachers on board and to be enthusiastic about change.

Resources in schools have to be fixed and schools provided with libraries and internet connections.

RB: We need to understand more carefully the relationship between school-based knowledge and the specialist knowledge required at higher levels in the education system, and indeed beyond.

What can be done to fix it?
GB: We need to get together as parents and communities with the schools to develop a plan.

RB: At a most basic level, a three-way conversation needs to occur frequently between the public and private sector employers, higher education and the basic education sectors in order to grasp the nuances that we need to be aware of.

That would enable us to shift education (the curriculum and also the profession) to better comprehend the challenges in the sector.

It would also mean we could deal better with the challenges in education through targeted support from the state, and thus provide learners with an education that is not only useful in their present circumstances.

It would also enable them to attain the achievement necessary to improve our economic and social circumstances in South Africa.

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