State of Education in SA: A New Culture and Ethos Is Needed

2015-08-22 16:12

South Africa’s Educational system was once again brought to the fore this last week, with the ever critical Jonathan Jansen citing it simply as "rubbish". Additionally, the respect for the value of learning is now preceded by owning qualifications, fraudulently and otherwise. Recent reports have placed the country in increasingly higher percentages of fraudulently claimed qualifications year on year. From high earning government officials to professionals involved in trades (beyond the boundaries of race), increasing numbers of job seekers are now seen to be falsifying their qualifications, despite refined methods of detection and referencing by employers.

Causal factors such as the competitive job market, compounded by the economic situation the country now finds itself in, are offered, but other social factors also wedge in as explanations for my own perspective. As mentioned in some of my previous submissions, the moral and behavioural  tendencies of elites in business and [especially] politics lends to replication amongst followers and aspirants. The revelation that public works has some 400+ individuals who're thought to have falsified credentials is now being threatened to be released by the DA (our ever present watchdog), with full names and details. More than reprimanding fraud, efforts should be made to stem it's flow with new social practices aimed at promoting educational rigour and truthful representation.

Basic Education minister Angie Motshekga, upon a recent trip to Paris, noted the prevalence of a reading culture (something she clearly went on to state was nearly amiss in South Africa). A train ride through the city, approximately estimated at 2 hours resulted in people taking out books, diverting her expectations at striking up conversations she’d thought she was likely to have. Her remarks at the lack of a reading culture is something which shouldn’t be earmarked to a Sowetan Newspaper article, but adopted quickly into a long term, sustainable campaign. Such an initiative should have the end result of increasing the comprehension of literacy in technical subjects desperately needed for economic growth and innovation. Beyond text books that go missing, more efforts should be made to invest in school libraries at primary and high school levels, something most people would think not only a necessity but a foregone conclusion.

The provision of books beyond prescribed classroom textbooks [potentially] yields more than increased literacy and pass rates. Access to greater varieties of books also lends to a renewed understanding of the world, how it works and what opportunities lay in wait, should hard work and application prevail. Such an approach, one would think, lends easily to the policy adoptions of a developing state, but recent stats show that as of 2010 show that only 1801 of 24, 979 public schools have access to fully stocked and functioning libraries. Some would say that burning publicly provided amenities has perhaps halted any extension of libraries in public schools but most of these have not dampened the efforts of NGOs and other actors outside of government. The provision of tablets to schools by the Provincial Govt. in Gauteng province may be argued by some to be a trump card over staffing libraries but the monetary coffers of South Africa’s wealthiest province far outmatches that of the Eastern Cape, Mpumalanga or Northern Province. A culture of [book] reading, curatorship and appreciation could easily reap benefits if implemented in conjunction with communities.

A culture of reading only permeates when learning environments are conducive for this shift to take place. The demands of higher levels of schooling up to tertiary level are only sufferable when people have developed literacy and concentration levels from an early age, no amount of technical wizardry/gadgetry can bypass this. Demarcations based on race in platforms such as literary culture, business and politics serve only to make the task of instilling a reading culture, and ultimately one of academic excellence, that much harder. It should also be said that education officials, squabbling  over prestige and resources are doing their own communities no favours either. Unions like SADTU, currently in the throes of disputes as to the appointment of senior educational officials in in KZN's outlying areas are far removed from the mandates which governed their conduct resulting in positive effectual strides during the liberation era. This is just one embodiment of the problems in the sector which is touted as the potential socio-economic slingshot0t by so many educationists analysts and policy makers. So far we've only projected consequential regression, or stagnation (if we're lucky) based on the systems, along with needless subjects (notably Chinese as a second language) that have been implemented.

For as long as schools are neglected, books left in their packaging or the money to deliver them diverted, the long term future of youth, and thus the future of the country, is at stake. The saying “Fake it till you make it” can only apply for so long before reality sets in. One hopes that all involved realize we're jeopardizing the future of our children, and thus our country.

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