How matric results reflect the inequalities of public and private education

(Duncan Alfreds, News24, file)
(Duncan Alfreds, News24, file)

Quality education should not become a good that can only be enjoyed by those who have money, writes Mcebo Dlamini.

There is no doubt that a country that does not invest in its education has a bleak future. It is therefore important that we invest our resources into education if we are to have prosperity as a country. Matric results for the year 2018 have recently been published and although there has been great improvement there is still a lot that needs to be done, particularly in the National Senior Certificate (NSC).

The discrepancies between the Independent Examinations Board (IEB) results and the NSC results are reflective of the inequalities that still permeate our country. They are testament of the fact that education remains a commodity, not just in tertiary education but also in basic education. The discrepancies make it clear that the children of the rich are most likely to succeed compared to the children of those who are poor. This should not continue; quality education should not become a good that can only be enjoyed by those who have money.

The matric pass rate for the class of 2018 NSC was 78.2% which was a slight improvement from the 2017 75.1%. The IEB matric pass rate for 2018 sat at 98.92% with 90.65% of those students qualifying for entry to study for a degree. It is also worth mentioning that the IEB matric maths marks were adjusted. This was supposedly done to ‘standardise the results, with the aim to achieve equivalence in the standard of examinations across the years, subjects and assessment bodies’.

One does not need to think hard about why there is such a wide gap between the NSC results and the IEB results. It is precisely because government schools are overcrowded, understaffed and under resourced while private schools have better facilities, staff and learner support systems. What is shocking about these parallels between private and public schools is how they have remained intact 25 years after the end of apartheid. 

However way one decides to look at it, the government has much to do with the somewhat mediocre performance of public schools. There has not been a concerted effort by various departments to ensure that public schools are equipped for success. Although there have been strides made by our government, such as the implementation of fee-free basic education, so much more needs to be done. The curriculum in the schools need to cater for the needs of our society.

The resources in the schools need to prepare learners for institutions of higher learning. These things will only be possible through commitment by the department of basic education and through channelling of resources by the treasury. This commitment must not only be towards those who are about to complete their basic education but also those who are in foundation phase. This is because statistics show that a large number of learners who begin grade one do not necessarily make it to matric. The government has a responsibility of looking at the causes of this and addressing them. It makes little sense to commend the government for an increase of pass rates, yet a large contingent of learners continue to drop out year after year. 

Many have suggested that one of the solutions to some of the problems that are faced by public institutions would be to make it mandatory that public servants and senior government officials use public services. This is logical because it makes little sense why the ministers should use private schools for their children. If they used public schools it would confirm their commitment to improving the quality of public education and their confidence in the work that they do. Unfortunately, this is not the case as many of them still use private services and this speaks volumes.

This might be a temporary solution but in time the government has to do away with the public and private schools distinction. This is because it does nothing more than re-enact the Bantu education system that made quality education a sole preserve of white people and in the current situation the rich who by the majority are still white. I reiterate quality education should never become a commodity that is only enjoyed by the elite few.

Critique is a work of love and it signals a desire for improvement. When one highlights the inadequacies of basic education one does not seek to take away from the strides made by the officials, teachers and learners but it is to say there is a lot that needs to be done so that we get to where we want to be.

I would like to congratulate all those who made it to matric despite all the odds they were facing, your relentlessness reminds us of the heights that one could achieve if determined. I hope that you prosper in your endeavours and always remember Robert Sobukwe's teachings that education is not just a personal achievement but it means service to Africa.

- Dlamini is a former Wits SRC leader and student activist. He writes in his personal capacity.

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.

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