SA education's woes

Mabine Seabe II

The Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga, is quoted as saying that there is no crisis in the quality of the education system. (Side note: When a politician say there is no crisis, the problem is actually bigger than we thought it was).

The fact that the minister has not fully acknowledged the extent to which her Department is failing to deliver quality education to students is worrying. It is difficult to put the necessary mechanisms in place to fix a problem, if it is not acknowledged.

The fact that the number of students who passed went up by 3.7%, from 70.2% in 2011 to 73.9% in 2012, should be applauded. Despite this, only a handful (26.6%) of learners achieved marks which will enable them to study at one of the country’s universities. If we compare this to the IEB results, where 98.2% of learners passed and 83.6% qualify to further their studies at a university, by my calculations, there is a crisis in the public education system.

The even greater crisis is the number of learners who do not get to Matric. According to lobby group, Equal Education, just over 50% of learners who started Grade 1 in 2001 actually made it to Grade 12. Too many students do not make it through the education system, which the Minister claims is not facing a crisis.

From where I am standing, the poor management of education resources, in order to achieve the best outcome, is the biggest problem.

The Education Department receives the biggest chunk of money from the National Treasury, so money is not the problem. There are still learners who go to school under conditions not conducive to learning: poor physical infrastructure, poverty, poorly skilled teachers, teacher union apathy - these are just a few examples.

We cannot expect the best outcome when the inputs are lacking.

A contentious issue is that learners are passing certain subjects with 30%. This is a huge problem, especially in the context of preparing learners for studying at institutions of higher learning, where a pass for all subjects is 50%. There should be a standardised level of achievement at both secondary and tertiary levels. By setting a low standard at the secondary level and a higher standard at the tertiary level, students are entering university ill-prepared.

Even if we let bygones be bygones and leave the Limpopo textbook saga, Minister Motshekga’s education crisis denialism alone is proof that she is not fit to be in charge of South Africa’s education resources.

With a renewed mandate from the African National Congress, we should hope that President Jacob Zuma puts the long term interests of the country and the youth before the interests of internal party politics by appointing a new Minister of Basic Education.

To quote former President Nelson Mandela, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

Without a quality education, the change that young people can make in society will be compromised.