Guest Column

What hope is there for a poor black child?

2017-02-23 09:04

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Yusuf Cassim

Surely this is the question that should have preoccupied every administration seeking to build a just society in the more than two decades since we attained liberation.  

Yet today, a black child in South Africa is still a hundred times more likely to grow up in poverty than a white child.

This is no coincidence. Whilst we have made progress since the days of oppressive apartheid rule, it is the direct consequence of subsequent administrations caring more about setting up political patronage networks than caring about what hope they can give to a poor black child.

The reality is that if you had the misfortune of being a poor black child growing up in South Africa, you will most likely be one of the 50% of Grade 1 pupils who never live to write a matric examination. 

Most certainly you will be one of the 80% of children who would receive an education that is considered among the very worst in the world – an education that will consign you to a lifetime of poverty. 

If, through sheer grit and determination you manage to beat these odds and actually write and pass a matric examination, chances are you will be part of the 75% of matriculants without a bachelor’s pass.

Essentially, roughly seven out of every eight Grade 1 pupils will never live to achieve a bachelor’s pass and even those who do still struggle to access colleges and universities due to government’s desperate underfunding of both. There exists no sustainable plan for these children.

It is therefore no coincidence that young black South Africans face unemployment levels of over 60%. Or that over three million South Africans, referred to as NEETs, are "Not in Education, Employment, or Training".

These are the lost generation which the DA has focussed its attention on. The children who have long been forsaken and forgotten, without hope of succeeding in a just society. The youth of this country who have been set up to fail and never make it out of poverty.

The DA believes that rescuing the lost generation is our greatest challenge. And it is a challenge that the ANC government refuses to face.

This is why since the DA became the government in the Western Cape, it has broken new ground achieving both the highest retention rates and bachelor’s pass rates in the country. 

The pass rates for the most disadvantaged schools in the province have been improved to 75%, having been 57% when the DA took over from the ANC in the Western Cape in 2009. 

The Western Cape’s top learner in Science hails from Phundulwazi Secondary School in Philippi, a disadvantaged school. Siphelele Xabendlini achieved 100% for Science.

It has become clear that building a solid foundation and thereafter opening opportunities for young South Africans, and preparing them for these opportunities, is the key to rescuing the lost generation.

How exactly should this be achieved?

It should start with joining hands with the thousands of truly committed teachers and principals in turning our schools around. 
Whilst protecting each teacher’s right to strike, this right should be limited to ensure a minimum core of teaching hours. Unions must also be prevented from encroaching on the day-to-day running of education departments. 

There must be significant investment in training existing teachers and recruiting more teachers with excellent skills, particularly in Maths and Science. 

We must also explore the feasibility of bringing back teacher training colleges, and making it easier for excellent teachers from other countries to help plug skills gaps in our education system.

Parents should be empowered through a voucher system which will give parents a greater say over their children’s education. Instead of funding going to schools as it does now, funding should follow the child.

This will give poor parents the financial power to take their kids out of a school that do not perform and into a school that does. This, in turn, will foster healthy competition amongst schools to attract learners. Under this system, only schools that provide our children with a decent education will survive.

To ensure that teachers and principals are supported and held accountable for the performance of their learners, a National Education Inspectorate should be created.

This inspectorate would be empowered to conduct visits to schools – without notice where necessary – to assess the effectiveness of teaching and learning in the classroom. The results will be used to ensure improvement where it is needed.
Another idea which has been piloted with great success by the DA government in the Western Cape is the concept of Collaboration Schools, where public schools operate in partnership with non-profit organisations and private sector sponsors to improve management, governance and teaching and learning in schools. 

Our national obsession with the matric pass rate has masked the fact that almost half of all Grade 1 learners don’t make it to matric twelve years later. It is time that the system worked to prevent learners from dropping out. And so schools should be incentivised to retain learners instead of leaving them to join the ranks of the lost generation.

The best way to ensure that learners remain in school is to ensure that they acquire the requisite reading, writing and calculating skills in the foundation phase.  

It is this phase that is the largest contributor to the ranks of the lost generation and thus must be fixed before all else. 
A just society would never stomach producing a lost generation. We need to join hands in rescuing the one that has been produced.

- Yusuf Cassim is a member of Parliament for the Democratic Alliance and is the party’s spokesperson on youth matters in the Presidency. He is the DA Youth Federal Chairperson and has previously served as the NMMU SRC President.

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Read more on:    da  |  basic education

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