Education now needs quality before quantity

2011-11-26 14:24

Imagine for a moment that you are standing on the banks of a river.

It has just rained heavily and the main bridge has been washed away. You must get to the other side before dark.

The other smaller bridges upstream are submerged in water. You are afraid and feel powerless at the same time.

This is the experience of many young people in South Africa.On November 11, the National Planning Commission released a draft national development plan for South Africa, which aims to build bridges for a number of young people.

The plan is a follow-up to the commission’s June diagnostic report, which highlighted a number of challenges.

These were:

»Too few people work;

»The standard of education for most black pupils is poor;

»? Infrastructure is crumbling and insufficient to promote higher growth;

»? Spatial patterns exclude the poor from the benefits of development;

»? The economy is excessively and unsustainably resource-intensive;

»? A widespread disease burden is compounded by a failing public health system;

»? Public services are uneven and often of poor quality;

»? Corruption is widespread; and

»? South Africa remains a divided society.At the heart of the plan is an attempt to repair the broken opportunity structure by building individuals’ capabilities. The plan takes each of the nine challenges and develops a set of proposals on how to overcome them. In terms of education, the plan outlines a vision for a system the country should have in 2030.

The plan

The plan envisages a schooling system that is characterised by:

» Learners and teachers who are highly motivated;

» Principals who are effective managers and provide administrative and curriculum leadership;

» Parents who are involved in the schools their children attend;

» Schools that are accountable to parents;

»Committed and professional teachers with good knowledge of the subjects they teach;

» Knowledgeable district officials who support schools and teachers;

» Administration of education as the preserve of government, with no union interference;

» Learning materials that are readily available;

»Basic infrastructure requirements that are met across the board; and

»The availability of high-speed broadband internet.The plan also sets targets to eradicate child under-nutrition, and proposes that each child should have at least two years of early childhood development before they enter school.Early childhood education and development creates a strong foundation for learning. The schooling targets include:

» 80% of schools and learners achieving 50% and above in literacy, mathematics and science in grades three, six, and nine;

» Increasing the number of learners who obtain bachelor passes, from 126 000 last year to 450 000; and

» 80% of every cohort of learners successfully completing the full 12 years of schooling.Targets for FET include producing 30 000 artisans; increasing graduation rates to 75%; and increasing the participation rates in FET to 25%.

Higher education

For higher education, the targets include increasing the graduation rate to 25%, and participation rate to more than 30%.

The aims include producing 100 doctoral graduates per million a year by 2030.Most of these targets address the quality standards and efficiencies that must be achieved in the education system as a whole.

Based on research, particular attention is given to the quality of teaching and school management. Teachers and principals occupy an important position in any education system and without them there can be little, if any, effective learning.

Teachers need to be valued, supported, assisted to continuously upgrade their skills and rewarded for their efforts.Given their importance in the learning process, they also need to be held accountable for their performance.

The evidence of teaching time lost, which was uncovered by two separate studies by the Human Sciences Research Council, has convinced the commission that school management is an area that requires urgent attention.

To address the quality of teaching, the plan proposes expanding the bursary scheme to train more teachers in areas of critical shortages and ongoing teacher development.

Teacher development courses should be longer in duration than the usual week-long workshops and be provided during school holidays.Professional bodies should play a greater role in teacher development.

Assessing teachers in the subjects they teach is proposed as an incentive for teachers to upgrade their subject knowledge.This recognises the fact that simply placing a requirement for teachers to obtain teaching qualifications is not enough.

Teacher incentives

Different monetary and non-monetary incentives are proposed for teachers. Monetary incentives can be structured in a way that stacks the odds in favour of poor schools.

For example, a monetary incentive of R250 000 to be shared among all teachers in a school that improves its overall performance (measured by matric and yearly national assessment results) by 10% is likely to benefit teachers in poorer schools rather than those already performing above 70%.

Other proposals include changing the pay structure to attract and retain good teachers. There is a need to set criteria for appointing principals, and introduce competency tests to select those who meet the criteria.

The proposal takes account of the fact that there are serving principals who do not meet the criteria. They should be given time to undergo training and development to meet the criteria over a period of 10 years.

The plan calls for South Africans to rally around a national pact to make education a priority for all sectors.The proposed national pact is intended to create conditions which will ensure that the rest of the proposals to improve education have a better chance of success.

It also calls for a national mobilisation of technical and financial support for underperforming schools.This opens the door for all South Africans to demonstrate their commitment.

An initiative that creates space for different sectors to support schools in a structured way will undoubtedly result in better performing schools.

We believe it is possible to restore the current, broken, opportunity structure. Education is central to the country enhancing the capabilities of individuals to take up opportunities and live productive lives, free of poverty.

» Rensburg, Molwantwa and Makgoba are members of the NPC. They write in their official capacity

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