If we had to compile a list of New Year’s resolution for the country, other than good corporate governance and eradication of corruption nationwide, top of our list would be the most desperate need to find effective and lasting solutions to the education crisis that is so glaringly clear to all except those that can effect change.

 Education, or the serious lack of, is one of South Africa’s headaches with constant tweaking and amendments being made year on year with the same appalling results. Despite the fact that the Department of the Education is one of the government departments allocated a larger chunk of the national budget, children in the country are constantly plagued with learning problems and fail to reach a standard that is competitive across the continent and the international stage. So it’s with much alarm that we hear the Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga, boldly declare “there is no crisis in the quality of the education system”.

As we start a new schooling year we look at just some of the issues that plague our schooling system and need addressing.

It’s with a deluded sense of pride, that Minister Motshekga keeps patting herself on the back for the rising number of matriculants that pass year on year. The latest pass rate of 73,9% was, a 3,7% increase from the 70,2% pass mark of 2012 and can be attributed, according to Motshekga, to “improvements across the board, as well as the efficacy of a range of interventions in the provision of teaching and learning material, teacher training and general stability.While this may be on the surface something to be celebrated by the nation; our standing on the world stage, and the number of unemployable youth, both of which are two major indicators of a successful education system, tells a different story.

As we start a new schooling year we look at just some of the issues that plague our schooling system and need addressing.

High Dropout Rate

When the matric pass rate is proudly announced as a success, it fails to take into serious consideration that the there is an abnormally high number of students that start the schooling process but fail to make it to the final year.

Of the total grouping that enrolled in the first year of schooling, it’s approximated that only 45% of them made it to the final exams. According to research done by the University of Johannesburg, less that half of the children who started school in 2000 went all the way to writing their Matric. Where do these children go? With a large number of our youth failing to complete high school and yet expecting jobs, it’s a recipe for disaster. Much effort has to be put into ascertaining the reasons for the high dropout rate and taking the necessary steps to rectifying it.

Lack of Infrastructure

For the students that stick it out and trek the road to an education, another obstacle stands in their way; lack of infrastructure. Despite the fact that the bulk of the national treasury coffers go to education, a large number of schools in disadvantaged communities still go without the necessary requirements. For many students in government schools a science lab is a resource that they never will set foot in! According to education analyst Graeme Bloch, 92% of government schools still do not have libraries. The sight of children being taught under trees, subject to the elements or having to share a desk between the four of them has become a normal sight. The very basis of a basic education; books, are scarce in some areas and never get delivered in others.

Teachers, who do bother to attend classes, are most times ill-equipped and barely adequately trained to provide the children with the necessary education as they battle to make do without the resources required to impart the necessary knowledge. Discipline amongst teachers is also at an all time low and it was only in his 2012 speech in Mangaung that President Jacob Zuma finally pledged to ensure that school inspectors would be re-introduced into the school system to ensure teachers and learners alike tow the line.

It would seem there is a major issue that requires addressing, a closer look at how the Department of Basic Education utilizes its budget for despite it having the hefty balance, the use thereof is not producing the required result or benefitting the right people.

Rankings

While the lack of infrastructure and high dropout rate affects mostly learners in the poorer communities, the quality of education is a thorn in the side of all across the social economic spectrum. In a world that is advancing in leaps and bounds, our children are constantly found wanting, which is completely unacceptable for one of the most stable economies and democracies on the continent. According to The Global Competitiveness Report 2012 – 2013, South Africa ranked 140 out of 144 when it came to the Quality of the Educational System. To put this into perspective, other countries in Africa with less resources and stability ranked as follows:

  • Zimbabwe 30
  • Kenya 37
  • Zambia 39
  • Rwanda 50
  • Malawi 65
  • Uganda 69
  • Swaziland 110

In respect to Quality of Math and Science Education, a necessary skill to further much-needed technology in any developing country, South Africa ranked an abysmal 143 out of 144! This shocking statistic should come as no surprise as it was revealed in the Annual National Assessment that in Grade 6 Mathematics, average performance amongst learners was 27% in 2012. Provincial performance ranged between 21% and 33%. Grade 9 Mathematics was the most jaw dropping, with an average pathetic performance of 13%!

Students’ facing a clear struggle in these subjects has resulted in there being a severe shortage of students studying science and mathematics. According to the University of the Witwatersrand Marang Centre for Science and Mathematics Education, there was a crisis in the country as a mere maximum of 10 students specialised in science education annually with post-grad courses attracting no more than four students a year!

While we acknowledge that there has been an improvement in the 2012 results for Mathematics, with a total of 54% passing compared to 46,3% in 2011, a lot still needs to be done to encourage our students to study mathematics and not be given the option to opt for the lesser challenging and completely redundant Maths Literacy which reduces their options for further studies in the field.

Setting Them Up To Fail

 A pass mark is 30%. In other countries this would be a dismal fail but according to the Ministry of Basic Education in South Africa this is what they confidently deem to be the necessary pass mark in order to gauge competency amongst our learners. This low mark was decided upon in order to afford students that were struggling a chance to pass their exams. In other words, instead of finding ways and means to bring the students up to the standard, they brought the standard down to the children. They chose the easier solution and dumbed the system down. Commenting on the pass-mark Vice-Chancellor at the University of the Free State, Prof Jansen noted, “you no longer need 50% to pass certain subjects, which means you can be completely ignorant of more than half the subject matter content and still pass.”

The repercussions of such a bizarre decision by the powers that be may not be apparent immediately but institutions and establishments where students enter after Matric have already felt them. Of the fortunate ones that do pass matric and qualify for university studies, many struggle to keep up with the level of work at university level and are either forced to do a two-year first year so as to gain the necessary literacy, numeracy and research skills or drop out of school altogether.

In her paper “Traversing the Chasm from School to University in South Africa: A student perspective” Merridy Wilson-Strydom noted that we still see a 30% drop out of students in their first year, with an estimated 44% of students actually going ahead to successfully complete a three‐year degree programme in five years (Scott, 2008).Due to the fact that they were allowed to get away with 30% as a pass rate they find themselves bottom of the class when pitted against peers from other countries who were pushed to realise that anything less than a 50% is a fail.

Those that do drop out head into the workplace in search of employment with their limited literacy and numeracy skills.

With all this in mind is it any wonder that the country is in a state of panic. We are knowingly setting our children up for failure and creating a generation that isn’t only allowed to settle for mediocrity but also pushed to celebrate it and pat themselves on the back. Some of us might be tired of this subject that has been talked about and is being talked about but we feel it needs to be talked about some more until someone pays attention and goes back to the drawing board and finds solutions that work.

Iconic struggle hero Malcolm X stated: “Education is our passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today.” The way education is playing out in South Africa is only serving to ensure that the youth of today have no future. Not only because they never got a chance to prepare for it, but in those whose preparations were set up to fail! And that is a national crisis!