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If education is really a priority, we'll have to do things differently

2018-03-01 12:14

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Gugu Nonjinge

On 16 December 2017, former president Jacob Zuma announced that government would be phasing in fully subsidised free higher education and training for poor and working class South Africans over a five-year period. 

This statement left many South Africans hopeful and eager to see an important change in our education system. 

Former finance minister Malusi Gigaba's 2018 budget speech highlighted the education of South Africa's youth as one of the top three national priorities. However, it inadequately responded to the burning issues at the heart of South Africa's education crisis.  

President Cyril Ramaphosa's 2018 State of the Nation Address earlier this month similarly failed to acknowledge the crisis facing the youth of the country who despite being hungry for education to better their lives, face an system that continues to isolate them. One can't help but wonder, what is the actual state of the education system?

South Africans have been living in a post-apartheid state for just over two decades. The country is still fighting against the historical inequalities. Similar to the apartheid state, education for black people is far from ideal. 

Investments continue to be made in well-resourced areas rather than in the areas that actually need to be invested in. In 2015, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) ranked our education system in the bottom two, out of the 76 countries that the organisation reported on. Disparities within the education system is still an issue despite the fact that there are plans, such as the National Development Plan (NDP) 2030 or Accelerated School Infrastructure Delivery Initiative (Asidi), to improve education and foster future human prosperity.

Since the drafting of the NDP of 2030, various research shows that significant changes to the education system still have not been fully implemented. The NDP states that it 'will ensure that all vulnerable families will receive access to comprehensive childhood development services, free education, nutrition plans, improved school infrastructure, and quality teachers'. Even though these ambitions are important, key factors that hinder impoverished families are not being considered such as the cost of clothes, supplies and transport; access to application and bursary options; ongoing danger and violence on the commute to school.

Last year the South African Child Gauge revealed that a staggering 58% of children cannot read fluently and with comprehension at the end of Grade 4. Due to a lack of financial support, smaller schools in rural areas have had to close. The lack of sufficiently educated and motivated teachers and the lack of teaching facilities also places a huge strain on the system.

The financial burden for local governments and for the families of the pupils in previously disadvantaged populations is high. The majority of pupils still live in poorest conditions in rural areas and in the growing townships of the major cities. However, the standard of education varies from region to region and school to school.

The Department of Higher Education and Training's report in 2015 indicated that a vast 47.9% of university students did not complete their degrees, with black students holding the highest drop-out rate which is one-and-a-half times higher than for white students. In effect, this means that only 5% of all African and Coloured young people in South Africa successfully complete university. Indeed, the education system is failing the majority of young people.

During the last twenty years, some progress has been made to heighten the levels of education. However, there are still issues of overcrowding and sanitary situations that need to be addressed. The nation needs to look into investing in the social services that are imperative to ensure socio-economic justice and equality. 

In order to achieve a successful education system, the department of education should develop capacity within the teaching force, put in place internal controls to increase accountability, transparency of the learning process, and the use of resources towards education at all government levels and in the classroom. It should improve understanding of languages and lastly, dedicate focus in improving the resources and infrastructure in the township and rural schools. 

The challenges faced with our education system are not new. As a nation we need to be willing to do things differently. These dimensions of deprivation do not occur in isolation, rather they intersect and have a cumulative impact on young people's lives. An unprecedented level of cooperation between government, civil society and the corporate sector is therefore needed to address these complex challenges and drive coordinated, intersectoral action.

- Gugu Nonjinge is Communications and Advocacy Officer at the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation and NDP2030 Youth Brand Ambassador.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

Read more on:    education  |  free education
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