Letter: Same plan will give same results

Eastern Cape education chaos

I refer to Phumulo Masualle’s In My View of January 9 (“Working to improve our children’s education”).

Mr Masualle, you are the premier of the academically, consistently poorest performing province in our country and yet you feel qualified to come up with a credible solution to the 59.3% last year’s matric pass rate embarrassment? Your proposed three-year, seven-point plan is, to say the least, the same old plans that have been regurgitated by government officials in conference centres throughout January for the last few years.

The same plans are documented each year, in different formats and filed without a thought to the implementation phase. I refer to Education MEC Mandla Makupula, who admitted to the country that he had no idea how to do his job and was placed there by the ruling party.

Does this not smack of the Peter principle, which predicts “in a hierarchical organisation people tend to rise to the level of their incompetence”. If he has no idea how to run education, how on earth does he lead and direct his superintendent-general and district directors to ensure quality public education takes place in every school in our province?

This has resulted in a dysfunctional head office staff who are unable to ensure that districts are capacitated and functional.

According to a study last year, Identifying binding constraints in education, undertaken by Prof Servaas van der Berg from the department of economics at the University of Stellenbosch, the five key constraints in education, at institutional level, are poor reading skills, weak institutional functionality, undue union influence, weak teacher content and pedagogical skills, and wasted learning time. Only two of these coincide with what our premier believes are the key challenges facing education today, viz an increased number of functional schools and a supply of trained teachers.

His plan of realignment and rationalisation of schools has been on the back burner since 2009 and keeps resulting in community unhappiness which becomes political in nature and often results in unrest. As for the mobilisation of social partners and the change agenda, Masualle clearly has no idea what brilliant work NGOs and volunteers from abroad do to uplift the standard of education in the Eastern Cape, and provide educational support for teachers and pupils.

The premier plans to increase the number of functional schools. By this, we are hopeful that instructional time will be monitored, as will the actual time the teacher spends in the classroom, focussed on the pupils.

Last year, in the Eastern Cape only 27% of pupils had covered the bare minimum number of exercises required for curriculum coverage. We hope that the amount of written work produced by each pupil will be closely monitored, as according to Van der Berg’s study, 44% of Grade 4 pupils had not written any paragraphs during the entire school year and most teachers only had taught 50% of the lessons they were scheduled to teach in the year.

We hope that late coming and early leaving of teachers is no longer tolerated as professional behaviour and that pupils who remain untaught because teachers are having a union or other meeting, have the right to charge these adults with educational neglect.

We hope that teachers educate themselves about their subject. Van der Berg found that 79% of Grade 6 maths teachers had a content knowledge below the Grade 6/7 level.

We also hope that the language policy at schools is reviewed and that township pupils are not forced to learn in English from Grade 4. The transition from Xhosa in the foundation phase to English from Grade 4 is another factor that hampers the quality of the content taught.

We hope that the professionalism is returned to the noble art of teaching, and that teachers are appointed and paid timeously by the provincial office. The exodus of South African teachers to the UAE and Saudi countries is a testimony to the incompetence of the Education Department to advertise and appoint the necessary staff timeously.

Teacher morale is very low and people are leaving the profession due to the failure of the system.

Money is always used as an excuse for the Education Department not being able to perform its functions. Masualle alludes to adhering to national budget allocation norms, but conveniently forgets the R530-million sent back to national Treasury at the beginning of last year.

This, while the Port Elizabeth district office sat in darkness due to millions owed by the schools, halting all administrative functions and payments.

He lists progress made with the provision of water, sanitation, electricity and additional classrooms to schools. This, Sir, is the government’s obligation to provide, along with enough teachers, admin and other non-teaching staff.

The premier also applauds the Education Department for feeding 1.7 million children, which is a wonderful achievement if one’s main objective is to feed children.

Masualle commits to no school being without a principal, to strengthen school functionality. This process is often hijacked by Sadtu, that forces its members into positions for which they are unqualified and unsuitable to perform educational management functions.

Undue union influence is the blind spot in the system as the government is footing the bill, but the union is calling the shots!

The premier concludes with the following statement: “Our children are our country’s greatest asset and every pupil deserves quality education.” My question is: who takes responsibility for the 28 214 pupils, registered in Grade 10 in 2014, who didn’t get to write the NSC, young people whose lives have disintegrated because the system failed them, while the officials have been making seven-point plans over the years?

Mr Masualle, this province is a disgrace to education in Africa! Our children deserve better!

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