A week ago I visited the township in which I was raised. As I navigated my home, I noticed that a new day care centre (creche) had just opened around the corner. I then asked my mother about the centre, and to my surprise, she told me that the owner is a grade ten (10) school dropout who is trying to make a living. I wondered whether she was not running the creche at the expense of precious children’s futures. The glaring fact is that this creche is a symbol of the what is happening to the education system in our townships, and our rural areas.
The gaping cracks on our education system are in early childhood development. One must admit that poor people, who constitute the highest percentage of South Africans, are most hard-hit by the the immense challenges facing the education system.
The Southern and Eastern Africa Consortium for Monitoring Educational Quality (SACMEQ) reported that 28.8% of South African children that should be in grade six are considered illiterate, and about 41.4% of South African children that should be in grade six are innumerate.
The hard questions are: should we blame the apartheid for not producing quality foundation learning and not providing access to tertiary education, or perhaps blame the ANC-led government, which is perpetually appointing incompetent individuals, and dishonest administrators? Have we considered the impact of ineffectual teaching and industrial actions by teacher trade unions?
I have heard many experts singing a hymn that says, “Increase the education budget”. My view is that you can’t give these corrupt officials more money because they already have taken enough. South Africa’s budget for the 2012/2013 financial year allocated 20.5% of total government expenditure to education. At 5.72% of GDP it is one of the highest in the world.
Why is there such a big difference between money spent on the education system and the results? Corruption, fraud and maladministration are rife in many provincial educational departments. Billions of rands are misappropriated or, in some cases, not spent at all. There is a lack of accountability. Departments are run by incompetent administrators who are not qualified for their positions.
The challenges became apparent to me few months ago when I was teaching a rural grade eleven (11) teacher how to use a computer. From our conversation, I realised that many teachers in rural and poor areas are unqualified or under qualified for the subjects they teach. This is to the detriment of learners, and explains the low percentage of matric passes in rural and poor township areas. Our primary school education was ranked 132nd out of 144 countries by the World Economic Forum. On access to primary education, South Africa ranked 115th. The quality of science and mathematics teaching was clapped with an embarrassing award of being the 2nd last on the list.
As we reflect on two decades of democracy, these statistics force majority of South African people to say enough is enough with our falling education! Most have lost hope in the education system, to the extent that they no longer see the ANC-led government as a vehicle of liberation.
All is not lost. Most experts believe that this immense problem can be solved. They propose basic solutions. Literacy and numeracy, should be the number one priority when looking at budget allocation. Moreover, teacher performance assessments and exam standards must focus on the basics. Hard decisions need to be made to instil discipline from the administrative level to the classroom level. South Africa has a culture of apathy and self-entitlement. Both come at a huge cost to productivity and professionalism.
Personally, I believe that government policy, lack of accountability and inaction have contributed to the current state of education. Some of the best and brightest teachers and educational administrators have relocated overseas to pursue better remuneration, better career advancement and better work conditions.
I think government should incentivise unemployed graduates to teach basic education. Teachers need subject-area training. The government must prioritise schools in rural or poor areas for the rollout of libraries, laboratories and computer centres. We cannot afford a situation where pupils only learn how to use computers and lab instruments at tertiary level.