10 ways to improve education in SA


Dr Mamphela Ramphele set out her ideas at African Education Week

Dr Mamphela Ramphele, former vice chancellor of the University of Cape Town and leader of the new political party Agang, set out her ideas on how to improve education in South Africa on Wednesday as keynote speaker at African Education Week in Sandton, Johannesburg.

“Of all the African’s countries, South African society is suffering [the most] from the impact of a public education system failing on a massive scale,” she said.

“It’s tragic because what ignited the fervour for freedom in our country’s struggle against apartheid was young people who revolted against an inferior education system and being taught in a language that wasn’t their own and one not linked to economic opportunities.”

“It appears sometimes as though some governments have little appreciation of the strategic importance of education to their economies and its vital role in creating citizens who take their place in socially cohesive societies.

“South Africa, with the highest proportion of [its] gross domestic product spent on education at R234 billion a year, has the worst performance of all African countries in the outcomes of the teaching of maths and science. [We also came] 143 out of [the] 144 countries [surveyed], only better than Yemen - a conflict-ridden, poor country.”

Some of the suggestions she made in her speech and in a media conference afterwards, include:

  • Conducting subject-specific competency tests of all teachers and provide intensive teacher training.
  • Link pay increases for teachers to competency/qualifications.
  • Introduce minimum standards for new teacher hires with an eventual goal of all teachers having bachelor degrees.
  • Fill teacher vacancies by hiring 15 000 more teachers with a focus on unemployed youth with bachelor degrees.
  • Provide allowances for working in rural areas and scarce skills, such as maths.
  • Upgrade infrastructure, eradicating mud schools, fixing basic infrastructure and building libraries to provide proper learning environments.
  • Set minimum standards for all elements of the education system so parents know what they should expect from government and can hold it accountable.
  • Top up social grants for educational results, providing additional social grant money to families for students who achieve a 70 per cent pass in any year and for matriculation.
  • Set 50 per cent as the minimum pass mark for matric. “None of us will fly in an airplane if the pilot has only 30 per cent of the required skills.”
  • Provide better technology in schools. “Why can countries such as Uganda, Nigeria and Ghana use tablets freely in their schools?”

Dr Ramphele refused to blame apartheid for SA’s poor education system. “It wasn’t apartheid that set the matric pass rate at 30 per cent.” According to her SA did allocate enough of its budget for education, but corruption eroded these funds.

- Gerda Engelbrecht

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