Education challenge

2009-01-26 00:00

As a new school year begins, a recent article, entitled “Another generation betrayed”, in a Sunday newspaper by distinguished academic, activist and past World Bank manager Mamphele Ramphele demonstrates lucidly and powerfully the extent of South Africa’s educational crisis.

Ramphele points out that a little over half of those who enter the school system make it to Grade 12 and of those pupils who prevail, just over half achieve a pass — an alarming drop-out rate which is bound to add fuel to this country’s many social, political and economic problems. In addition, owing to the low criteria for a pass, many of those pupils who are successful would be regarded as barely literate in other countries.

On key educational indicators South Africa ranks below a poor country like Ghana and a conflict-wracked one like Palestine. Levels of professional competence among some teachers, principals and officials are among the world’s lowest.

If these damning criticisms apply to South Africa as a whole, how much more must they apply to KwaZulu-Natal, which, along with Limpopo, Mpumalanga and the Eastern Cape, came in bottom of the pack in the 2008 National Senior Certificate. This province has also shown worrying administrative deficiencies: the appointment of markers was late and disorganised, the necessary training for marking the new curriculum was absent and many pupils had the release of their exam marks delayed.

It is time that our educational leaders acknowledged the extent of the crisis and came up with a clear action plan to address it, instead of the usual ministerial pronouncements in the media, which are often ignored. A central component of any action plan should be a review of the functional efficiency and professional competence of everyone in a leadership position. Under close scrutiny, many of the officials would be found to be deficient in knowledge, skills and experience — their appointments based on their service to teacher unions rather than to education. Only firm action against transgressors and a system based primarily on merit can rescue the ramshackle structure from collapse.

Unfortunately, as Ramphele asks at the end of her indictment: “Do we have the political will not to yet again fail another generation of young people?”

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