What the DA and ANC get so horribly wrong...

2012-10-13 13:45

Often we read about debilitated schools, textbooks not being delivered, pupil who can’t read and write properly, and see poor matric results at the end of the year, we make our comments (manly blaming government) and then we go on with our lives until the next headline involving the education department, then we comment again and go on with our lives, repeat this over and over again without once asking what we can do to ensure that South African children get the education they deserve.

Then there are the usual celebrations, education minister popping the champagne bottle celebrating her department’s failure to adequately prepare learners for higher education, civil service, or the ‘cheap labour market’; and the president blaming a dead Verwoerd for the government’s failure to ensure that the pupil who started their schooling in 1994 can compete with their peers from any country in the world but now can’t even compete with their peers in South Africa’s private education institutions.

In Limpopo, it took active citizens to get the government to deliver textbooks, not moaning about how bad the situation is, so Dr Mampela Rampele was right when she said that “active citizens will solve most of our problems” not Rampele, Zille, or Zuma; Dr Rampele was responding to a question on whether she would ever consider standing for public office to which she answered ‘no, I’m just a loudmouth, you should lead’.

This means that we cannot simply elect Zuma or Zille and hope that they do their job, constant monitoring and assessment is necessary to ensure that the elected public servants do their job, or else we will have to live with the consequences of not acting .

A great deal of effort has been made to improve access to education by introducing the no-fee schools, but there is an agreement amongst scholars that the quality of the education offered in public schools is sub-standard, therefore more emphasis should be on what actually goes on in the classroom rather than simply getting children to school .

This is supported by the results we get at the end of the year so President Zuma should not use the number of children enrolled in public schools since 1994 as an indication of how public schools are performing. It’s not enough to get a child to school, the child must come out of the public education system with some proven competency, not proven competency in baby-making or drug-sniffing, with the alarming statistics that suggest that more than half of the pupil who enrolled at a public school for the first time will drop out before acquiring the basic qualification, from those who complete the basic qualification, only a quarter will qualify to further their studies with a large majority of them remaining jobless with only the basic qualification and very little prospects of ever finding employment. This is to be expected if a person passed the National Senior Certificate with marks ranging from 29% to 40% at most, and that is the best a South African learner is expected to achieve, 29-40% when in Zimbabwe that would be considered a fail..

That is only in the public schools, because when you look at the ‘independent’ schools you start seeing better results, results that should be a norm in every school. The ‘independent’ schools have consistently produced much better results when compared with public schools. Each year the Independent Examinations Board (IEB) gets a pass rate above 95% with 80%+ qualifying for entry into degree study programmes and 14%+ meeting the requirements to study towards a national diploma.

In public schools 70% passed with 24% qualifying for Bachelor’s Degree studies, don’t ask about Maths and Science in both private and public institutions, my maths tutor at the University of the Western Cape was from Zimbabwe in 2011 and the 2012 tutor is from Cameroon (both Zim and Cameroon’s education are ranked above South Africa by the latest World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Report *WEFGCR*); South Africa is ranked at number 143 out of 144 countries on the quality of maths education, Zimbabwe is 50/144 and Cameroon 75/144.

There are other rankings where South Africa is ranked below Zimbabwe, Cameroon, Ghana, Uganda, Rwanda, Nigeria, such as the availability of science and engineering professionals, the most noticeable instance where South Africa beat Zimbabwe is on Wastefulness of Government Spending where South Africa took the number 62 spot with Zimbabwe at 99, no surprises there.

Then there are other issues that the World Economic Forum reported concerning South Africa, issues that were already being discussed in the country such as the impact of restrictive labour regulations, and an inadequately educated workforce which topped the index of the most problematic factors for doing business in the country, with corruption as one of the factors of course.

These are issues South Africans debate every year but we don’t seem to be doing much to address them, and the rest of the world is watching. How then do we hope to prosper when we can’t even identify our problems because all you’ll get from government is excuses (most popular one for education is “its Verwoerd’s fault”) instead of identifying the problem and start looking for solutions. Recently the Director General of the Department of Basic Education said in parliament that there is no education crisis in the country, this is where the problem starts, when we fail to admit that we have a huge problem. But how can we expect the Director General to admit that we have a problem when his ‘superiors’ cannot take action? The minister could not ‘sort out’ the Eastern Cape Education Department, how then do we expect her to solve the entire country’s education problem, wait… according to them there is no problem. You should also remember that Mbeki denied the existance of AIDS whilst many died from it. Then there was the minister of Energy who told South Africans that the country is not facing an energy crisis, months later Eskom rolled-out countrywide black-outs. Who told South African politicians that if you deny that you have a problem, it will go away?

Then there is the president who should have fired the Basic Education minister, but he did not, because well… he is busy with his re-election campaign, if he had fired the ANCWL president, he would most certainly not get the ANC mamas support in Mangaung. If he does not blame apartheid for education (or lack thereof), he throws his usual response of “lets continue to engage on this issue”, just how much more debate is necessary before we can expect to see action? The failure to address the education crisis should prove to us all that our current political leaders do not care much about addressing societal issues but more important to them are the positions of power they hold, what they do with that power is another story.

The critical question to ask if the independent schools can produce 80%+ potential university students annually, why is it that public schools have not gone past the 25% mark in the past 10 years when the passing mark is at least 40% on four subjects? Could it be that our education system is designed to ensure that only a few actually make it to university because well… there is not enough space to for everyone at the institutions of higher learning and many cannot afford higher education?.

If the national pass rate was anything like that of the IEB’s annual results, our tertiary institutions would not be able to accommodate all the students who wish to pursue higher education, the stampede at the University of Johannesburg earlier this year proved that with the long queues at most institutions of higher learning in January every year. So matriculants from public schools not qualifying to further their education are not a problem for the government, they would be a problem if they qualified in large numbers. But they are a problem for the future of our country, because often we hear South African youth being associated with all sorts of social ills such as crime, HIV/AIDS, unemployment and so forth.

The government’s inability to accurately identify problems, their causes, and find alternative solutions is this country’s biggest problem, sooner or later, our government will have to start taking responsibility for its failure and not continuously blame the dead architects of apartheid education, yes they contributed to the problem, its almost 20 years into a democracy, surely the child who went to a school in Khayelitsha for the 1st time in 1994 should be in a position where he or she can compete with the child who is enrolled at Westerford High School in Rondebosch, if indeed the ANC has not failed to fulfil its mandate given to it by its founders and the Freedom Charter.

The doors of learning shall be open…

One of the key ways in which any developing country can empower its citizens is through education, the authors of the Freedom Charter, and the constitution of the Republic knew well how important education is. The Freedom Charter says that “the aim of education shall be to teach the youth to love their people and their culture, to honour human brotherhood, liberty and peace”. When you look at the current system, ask yourself if it in anyway fulfils the wishes of those who fought for this democracy and whether we are living in a country that we can, in the next 30 years, look back and say we are proud of the society we have created, and the generation of youth we have raised.

The Freedom Charter, and Constitution of the republic both suggest that education should be free, open to all, and equal, but this is not the case; the government has forgotten its mandate regarding education. And if education is the golden spear to be used in fighting poverty as former president Mandela, deputy president Motlanthe, and former constitutional court judge Kate O’regan believe it to be, why not give it the attention it deserves? Not that education guarantees anyone a job, the Kenyans who have university degrees but are selling chips on the streets for survival are proof that education alone is no guarantee of the ‘good life’ but that does not mean we should simply sit around and not pay attention to education at all. If people studied solely for the degree and not the knowledge, then we can simply go back to the old ways of our forefathers who didn’t need the kind of education a modern society demands.

Simply opening up access to basic education is clearly not good enough as the developing world needs skills that are mostly attained from institutions of higher learning, if then our current education system has failed to adequately prepare the majority of learners for the work place or for higher education, how else are we planning to fight poverty? More state grants? Discussions emerging from the ANC’s latest policy conference suggest that we are going to see another type of social grant introduced, the job seekers grant.

This grant would be given to every unemployed South African, mostly youth. Would it not make sense to use that money to send the inadequately educated unemployed youth back to school to get quality education, in the fields where there is a shortage of skills all over the SADC region? When people suggest that even higher education should be free, many argue that we cannot afford to make higher education free for all, the question that should be asked then is can we afford not to make higher education accessible to the poor?

In South Africa, higher education is still reserved for those who can afford it, and not a lot of people can afford it. Others say well… there is the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS), how we forget that an application for NSFAS does not guarantee that the student will receive funding, furthermore, not every student will have A’s and B’s, most sponsors look for an average mark of at least 70%, how does a child who passed matric with a D secure funding? And more worrying is the limited funding NSFAS has, majority of university students in South Africa depend on NSFAS and other sponsors, doesn’t it make sense to exempt poor students who, based on their academic results have secured admission/readmission at a public institution of higher learning, from paying tuition fees? In Denmark, at least 80% of the youth pursue higher education because there are no tuition fees charged at most public institutions of higher learning. The typical Danish university student gets a living allowance that covers books and other costs. The government says this is society giving its youth a helping hand. Why don’t we scrap the job seekers grant, the youth wage subsidy, and every other grant aimed at the youth, and use that money to send all the youth back to school?

The Democratic Alliance on the other hand seems to suggest that we don’t need many changes to the NSFAS system, its key focus is on the repayment of the loan. The repayment would be done through service to the state for the graduate to gain experience if the DA was in power, no problem with that but shouldn’t the university curriculum be extended to 4 years instead of the 3 years, 3 years of study and the 4th year as a compulsory internship in the particular field of study the student is pursuing the qualification in? This way all university graduates would have some workplace experience and can demonstrate competency in their chosen field. Access would still be based on academic results, even though this still leaves 75% of matriculants out as they will not even qualify to further their studies.

The fees exemption for the poor would inspire other youth who drop out of school due to their socio-economic status to keep going. Let’s face it, if you are living with a mother who depends on some form of a social grant, it would be difficult to believe that you can actually further your studies beyond matric; this is the question many children ask, what happens after matric? They assess their socio-economic environment and see no brighter future when they live in a community that has high levels of poverty, so dreaming about higher education is out of the question. Many cannot even afford the application fee that is charged by universities, then come January there are long queues at universities formed by students who cannot afford to pay the required registration fee.

Whilst the DA has managed to reverse the decline on the matric pass rate in the Western Cape, which does not in any way mean that they DA has a winning formula that would solve the current education crisis. The DA in the Western Cape has successfully implemented the National Education Policy, which the ANC has in all but one province failed to implement successfully, only Gauteng has performed consistently, the rest keep changing positions. The passing mark in the Western Cape is the same as other provinces, 30% on three subjects, 40% on three, and you can fail the 7th subject or pass it with 29% as long as it’s not maths or a language. If you get 40% of four subjects and 30% on the rest, you can go to a university with minimum entry requirements where the passing mark is minimum 50%, and you will be expected to compete with children from the independent schools who do not just pass with the minimum requirements, and take as much as 12 subjects, not the 7 subjects in public schools. On top of that, you will be expected to do your work on a computer, never mind that you have never touched one before, and in English, most independent schools have it as a first language, public schools still use home languages to at least explain things not to assess.

The DA cannot claim that it has fulfilled government’s constitutional mandate of providing equal education for all because well… majority of learners who go to a school in Khayelitsha cannot compete with a child who goes to Westerford High in Rondebosh, or Bishopscourt Primary. So both the DA and ANC choose to support the minority that gets admirable results and condemn the majority to a miserable life of poverty only to be used as statistics to score political points. Both would score great political points if they came up with an education system that works for all, not one that works only for those who can afford it. There is a very good reason why parents leave the schools in the townships for independent schools that charge thousands a year on fees, they are still required to buy stationary, when they could have sent the child to the ‘no fee’ school in the township where they get free books (in theory that is). Perhaps because they know that the ‘no fee’ schools do not offer the kind of education their children deserve hence they sacrifice the little income they have sending them to the independent schools in ‘leafy’ suburbs.

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