Education is actually accessible

ANC rank and file member Omry Makgoale appeared on this page last Sunday (City Press, June 23 2019) peddling untruths and misleading readers in the process of analysing the performance of the education system since 1994.

The author, it appears, takes pride in the apartheid education system, which was exclusionary and racially categorised to serve and develop the race groups separately.

To say that the education system is garbage and that black communities are condemned to worse standards than they were even under apartheid is ignorant and unsubstantiated.

Prior to 1994, there were 19 separate education systems, differentiated on the basis of race and other such abhorrent criteria, and each had its own education administration. At the time, Model C schools were strictly reserved for whites and, by the 1980s, it is estimated that the government of the day would spend more than R1 200 per white pupil and less that R400 on a black child.

That education system deliberately excluded and kept the black population in the dark concerning global trends of the time. Technology, for instance, was advancing at a rapid pace with the introduction of computers, the internet and wireless phones, yet the only career options for which the state prepared the black child was nursing, gardening, teaching or domestic work. Very few privileged black pupils had the option of studying law or medicine.

Fast forward to this year and the education system is centralised, broad, future-focused and provides a variety of streams for pupils to choose from. We have specialised schools that provide focused training to meet the economic demands of the present and future.

The National Senior Certificate (NSC) results have shown consistent improvements in recent years, both in terms of pass rates and the number of pupils passing each year. One important reflection of quality in the system is the number of NSC candidates achieving a bachelor’s-level pass each year, as this is required for access to a degree programme at university. This number has roughly doubled since 2007. Encouragingly, increases in the number of black African bachelor’s passes almost entirely accounts for the overall improvement.

Pupils from public schools represent the country well in international competitions for robotics, maths, science, spelling and technology, often coming home with accolades and recognition for top performance. We do not often hear about these achievements because reporting about the sector is tilted towards the negative.

Education has also become accessible to pupils with special education needs. Under the apartheid system, families were forced to keep their children living with disabilities at home because they were not catered for.

I have seen a gradual increase in the number of pupils with special education needs sitting for NSC examinations. Last year, 3 856 pupils with special education needs wrote the NSC examinations (compared with 2 777 in 2017). This is an increase of 39.9% from 2017 and, of these pupils, 3 051 passed, compared with 2 125 in 2017, while 861 pupils (compared with 789 in 2017) achieved bachelor’s and diploma passes.

Last year, two new subjects were included as part of the NSC examination. SA Sign Language as a home language was written by 52 candidates, while civil technologies, mechanical technologies and electrical technologies – each with three subjects – as well as technical mathematics and technical science were written by 41 999 candidates.

Access to schooling has improved consistently since 1994 and this has also been the case for pupils with disabilities.

Teachers are the cornerstone of our education system. The successful functioning of schools therefore depends on the consistent and effective training, development recruitment and placement of teachers in schools. The quality of teacher development and effective teacher recruitment and management strategies are government policy priorities – as demonstrated in the National Development Plan, the medium-term strategic framework and the department of basic education’s Action Plan to this year.

It is recognised that teacher salaries comprise approximately 80% of the education budget and that teachers are the custodians of classroom practice. Teacher development, supply and the effective utilisation of teachers are therefore integral to improving teaching and learning outcomes in South Africa.

A major focus of education policy and planning since 1994 has been the introduction and provision of pro-poor programmes. This includes the introduction of no-fee schools since 2007, which has led to two-thirds of children from impoverished communities not paying school fees, and the provision of daily meals to more than 9.2 million children through the national school nutrition programme.

Through the pupil transport programme, children in remote areas arrive at school safely, on time and ready to learn. There are also a number of initiatives to provide suitable learning opportunities for children with special needs. None of these initiatives was available to this large extent under the apartheid government for which the author so desperately laments.

While there have clearly been improvements in the equity of educational outcomes since 1994, despite the progressive interventions bearing fruit, the department is the first to admit that we still have a lot of work to do to bridge the inequality gap in the system. When one considers the racial gaps, socioeconomic gaps and children with special needs, the magnitude of the remaining inequality means that the challenge of creating a more equitable schooling system will be with us for many years to come.

Makgoale should have done some research before misleading the readers of his article.

Mhlanga is head of communications at the department of basic education

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