Our education system misses the mark

2017-01-10 10:41

With the new school year all ready to kick off into 2017, we need to say congratulations to everyone who laboured away, burning the midnight oil in building a future for themselves. A massive thank you to our teachers too, who put in the extra work with limited resources (yes we know you do), we applaud you.

Though, it’s not much different to when I matriculated many moons ago. Waiting with anticipation to see your name appear on that piece of paper stuck to the wall. And then, all anxiety escapes, when finally, you see your name in all its glory. It’s a great moment of relief, jubilation and triumph in completing your school career, not yet truly grasping the fact that we were then immediately unemployed. A grim reality quickly caught up with us, even worse if you didn’t have the means to further your education.

In South Africa, our unemployment rate sits at 27%, with a staggering 65.5% youth, mostly of school leaving age. This has a tremendous effect on the economy and GDP of South Africa, and even less opportunity for those without the illusive “Bachelors Pass”. Not such a celebration if we don’t make changes to where it’s hurting us the most – Our Education System.

Creative change is needed to excel

Excelling at school is great advantage in furthering careers and developing thinking for those who have passed and have the opportunity (funding) to study further. But the question taunting everyone who gives a blue bean about the future of our country; what calibre of job-seeking school-leavers are we developing? What about those who aren’t able to excel and those who scrape by with the bottom-of-the-barrel results? Worse still, what about those who are still in school? Is our curriculum setting them up for failure?

Yes, we’ve seen an increase of 2% in the matric results this year, from 70.7% (in 2015) to 72.5% in 2016 which is great, but our maths and literacy levels are nothing to hoot about. In fact, it’s been revealed that the raw figures from Umalusi (DBE quality control body) shows that the average mark received  by learners who wrote the mathematical literacy exam, to be in the region of only 37%. Our education system is broken and a quick fix is not going to cut it. We need to establish and develop a concrete plan in taking our country to further heights.

Alarmingly, in recent weeks, we’ve seen stories make the headlines that the mathematics pass rate is assumed to drop to 20% to consider a pass to the next grade.  This has of course been dismissed by the Education Department, that there is “no such thing as 20% pass rate”. The department is fully aware that not every learner has a high aptitude and appetite for mathematics, which leaves us with an opportunity (and need) to reform our policies.  With the scarcity of jobs, a spiralling economy, tighter budgets and limited opportunities, we need to ask ourselves what education means to us as a nation. In essence, adopting a 20% pass rate means that you’ve failed rationalising 80% of the content.  

With the focus and investment in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), we need to re-evaluate what type of candidates we’re sending out into the world, and what the results will be. If the 2016 matric results are anything to go by, and should we adopt a 20% pass rate for maths in the future, then the future of our country seems bleak at best.

“We are all aware that not everyone is mathematically inclined. Some people are more inclined towards the arts, others are better with technical subjects making this policy unfair to those who are forced to take mathematics but are not good at it,” Elijah Mhlanga, spokesperson for the Department of Basic Education. In essence, no attention is being paid to our creative kids, and they will continue to be stuck in dead-end jobs, and not fulfilling careers.

The benefits of art is mesmerising

It’s time for us to reintroduce the Arts (and creativity) in school as a necessary step in improving the lives of learners, in building confidence and challenging their thinking, especially for those who are not inclined to excel at subjects such as mathematics, physics and science. The results of adopting an art-centric approach to schooling has reaped benefits for countries such as Finland, and how they’re breaking the rules in education (yes, we know they’re a third-world country), but the shift needs to happen.  It’s a start and a step in the right direction. We need to place emphasis on the Arts too, from STEM to STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Mathematics).

Art affords learners a different way of addressing intrinsic and extrinsic concepts. A common misconception of Art as romanticised by mainstream media, is that Art is about freedom of expression. On the contrary, art comprises of the understanding of concepts, tone, relationships, the ability to create, to challenge thinking and application of varying techniques. Art has massive advantages on a personal and social level, affording people the opportunity and need to concentrate, to solve problems, to collaborate, to ask questions and most importantly, to drive action and innovation. Art is the premise of how we can re-imagine how we engage, how we see the world, and how we contribute to it.

Art and creativity contributes to many industries, from Tech, Science, Fashion, Engineering, Architecture, Marketing among others. It would aid our country’s unemployment rate too, allowing people to think up fresh ideas for business and entrepreneurship, bolstering our continent from the “Dark Continent” to the “Continent of the Brightest Ideas”.

Who knows, maybe the next Elon Musk is sitting in Mitchells Plain, or Soweto. We will never know if the opportunity to address our education system is never realised. We need to change our perspective. It’s time to take the step. Art is not merely the ability to create, but the ability and benefit, to think creatively.

Read more on:    matric 2016  |  basic education

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