Knowledge is power

2014-04-24 00:00

• The African

National Congress

THE ANC includes statistics from the past 20 years and the past five years in its manifesto. According to these figures, under the ANC, the South African matric pass rate, which was as low as 40% in the late nineties, has improved considerably: 78,2% of candidates who sat the matriculation exams in 2013 passed their final exams, which is the highest pass rate since the end of apartheid. What does this really mean when the pass mark sits at 30%? Pupils get 70% of their work wrong yet still manage to pass their final exams. Instead of lowering the pass mark, I feel it would be more beneficial to increase effort.

The party also states that there are “1,7 million more young people (under 35) working than in 1995”. However, there are also 4,3 million youths who are not in education or employment. I have to wonder what the difference is between a “work opportunity” and a “job”.

“Twice as many young people attended university and twice as many graduated in 2012 than in 1994.” Unfortunately, twice as many have also dropped out. The Independent Council on Higher Education’s latest data shows that 50% of university entrants drop out before they complete their degrees or diplomas.

It is true that under the ANC, the amount available for student bursaries for deserving students in universities and FET colleges has doubled. However, increasing access has not achieved very much. R2,7 billion has been set aside for youth entrepreneurship loans and support, but sadly, much of this funding has been taken from the corporate sector through their skills levy, via the Setas. This is making it increasingly difficult for companies to afford to conduct training of their own employees themselves.

The proposed development of FET college-based mathematics and science foundation programmes to assist students to take up careers in engineering, science and technology is a great goal, although we must ask the question of why this training does not begin adequately in primary school.

On a positive note, the ANC government has dramatically expanded preschool education, with the number of Grade R pupils increasing from 300 000 in 2003, to 780 000 in 2013. The level of access has improved, which will have positive implications for future generations. The proportion of university students who are African increased from 49% in 1995 to more than 66% in 2010 — another great success for accessibility.

• The

Democratic Alliance

The DA’s key focus area is “on quality education as this empowers individuals to obtain a fulfilling job, contribute to the economy and utilise their talents to the full”. The DA has promised to increase the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) budget to R16 billion so that no student is denied further education because he or she cannot afford it. This is a fabulous idea, but is this a realistic target in terms of numbers and funding? The DA’s suggestions around funding to young entrepreneurs or those wanting to further their education and skills development with partial subsidies are open to fraud and would need to be carefully evaluated and managed as well. I am not convinced that we have adequate mechanisms to do this.

• Congress of the


Cope’s manifesto asks for an overarching system of world-class education that allows South Africa pupils to be globally competitive, is responsive to the socio-economic needs of society and prepares all citizens to be equal participants in the information society and knowledge economy. Cope would like to set a benchmark for ICT literacy for teachers and pupils to empower them for e-learning. I feel that the issue at hand is accessibility to computers which needs to be managed realistically. We are still unable to provide each citizen with access to electricity.

• The Inkatha Freedom Party

The IFP’s manifesto states that the most prevalent issue is the current matric pass mark, which has been lowered to 30% to accommodate poor standards. Despite this, pupils will not be allowed to fail a grade more than once before being promoted. The party says that the current education system prioritises quantity over quality which is not acceptable. It proposes that there should be far greater accountability for failure, which is admirable. I agree with the viewpoints and again reiterate that instead of lowering the pass mark, it is more advantageous to increase effort.

• The Economic

Freedom Fighters

The EFF’s manifesto on education differs vastly from the other parties. Free education is a wonderful thing, but why should it be limited to the poor instead of those who qualify academically? The EFF suggests cancelling the debts of all students who owe institutions of higher learning money for academic purposes, which could be problematic. Why not propose options to repay the loans, such as community service? Another concern is the increased taxes it suggests on corporations. This lacks understanding in a business environment where investors are already cautious.

With 20 years of democracy in South Africa, there is much at stake for both the country and the state of education. Although South Africa has one of the highest rates of public investment in education in the world, with the government spending more on it than any other sector, the state of education in South Africa today may never have been more critical. This is apparent to the parties and in their campaigning they have the best intentions and highest ambitions for the future of education. In placing your vote on May 7, be sure you know exactly what your party of choice represents on key issues such as education. This institution is the great leveller and an exit strategy to poverty. In a society of extreme disparity between the rich and the poor, South Africans need the best education possible before many other crucial problems can be tackled.

• Jackie Carroll is CEO of Media Works, a Johannesburg-based organisation that specialises in adult basic education and training

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