Letter: Government not heeding warnings

Education in dire straits

Educationists at all levels have been warning about the dumbing down of our pupils.

In Cape Town Brian Isaacs and other leading principals have been [allegedly] victimised and dismissed from teaching because of their criticism of the DA-led education system.

As a principal, I wrote numerous letters to national, provincial and district offices, citing the numerous problems encountered in our education system, all to no avail.

As regular contributor to newspapers in the Eastern Cape and in Cape Town, I have since my retirement kept my finger on the education pulse and pointed out that education is facing systemic failure, all to no avail.

The Department of Education has this fixation with improving matric results without improving the education system that has spawned those results.

The advisers to the political heads are either deliberately misinforming their superiors or do not know what they are about.

First, despite opposition from leading educationists, outcomes-based education (OBE) was introduced in South Africa.

A variation of OBE is later introduced, but it’s stipulated that the principles of OBE are to be slightly amended and a more “flexible” approach with less “newspeak” would be beneficial for our pupils and teachers.

In the meantime, colleges of education were closed, resulting in a dire shortage of foundation phase teachers and a looming crisis.

The South African universities could not cater for the teacher needs of the schools of the poor.

At former Model C schools, foundation phase teachers from the universities are “parked” as they are guaranteed a permanent post at these schools. Only the socially-conscious young teacher will opt to teach at a school in the townships with all its multitude of problems.

Why is South Africa in this position? South Africa has failed to answer this.

Leading educationists the world over have declared that South Africa has one of the world’s worst education systems.

It was reported that the South African education system is ranked 75th out of 76 in a ranking table of education systems.

Further, a study of the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study placed South Africa at or near the bottom of a variety of categories.

South Africa’s results are worse than a number of African countries.

According to Jonathan Jansen, the recently released Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (Pirls) results determined that a whopping 78% of Grade 4 pupils could not comprehend what they were reading.

These results indicate that most pupils who have attended school for four years are not able to read, compared with 4% in Tanzania and 19% in Zimbabwe. Only 37% of children starting school go on to pass the matriculation exam and just 4% obtain a degree.

Some of these problems could obviously be the result of apartheid-era education as well as a lack of teacher training in certain subjects.

The lack of mother-tongue instruction is a major impediment in our schools. (Of course we have to blame apartheid – unequal education forced upon the oppressed and exploited is a direct result of massive illiteracy in the country). The vicious cycle now continues. There is an open admission by the education minister that the country’s schools are in crisis mode.

Out of more than a million Grade 1s who start school annually, less than half go on to pass matric, but even more devastatingly, there’s a huge drop-out rate.

The now defunct Cape African Teachers’ Association and the dormant Teachers’ League of South Africa declared after 1943 that education, politics, economics and the like, were indivisible. (Angie Motshekga you cannot take education out of the political arena.)

Why do our children go to the former Model C schools? Why do parents make these supreme sacrifices to get the children to these schools? Better facilities – no doubt! However, most of all, it’s better teaching. It is estimated that more than 70% of pupils at the former Model C schools come from the townships.

Why amend the Education Act to suit the ruling party as far as appointments (may be commendable) at schools are concerned?

Can the government no longer trust the parents who have voted with their feet to ensure quality education for their children?

Is the majority trade union, Sadtu, partly responsible for the mess within which our schools find themselves?

How does this uncaring government allow our pupils to study in decrepit shantytowns that blight the South African landscape in every city, town and village?

How do our pupils study in badly-lit rooms, without working space, with homes that have no decent sanitation and no ventilation?

How do our pupils get to schools when they have to walk at 5km or more to the nearest school, alternatively in the urban areas children are packed like sardines into minibuses and driven long distances, some more than 30km away, to the schools in the former whites-only suburbs.

How do our pupils and their parents manage where there is rank joblessness, inequality, poverty, malnutrition and disease? How do our pupils study without decent textbooks, without readers?

Do our current university lecturers know how to empower our aspirant teachers to become qualified to teach foundation phase to read and write?

How do our pupils learn to read with comprehension when our teachers are not capacitated to assist them?

These are socio-economic factors that have first to be addressed before we can claim to have equality in education and before we are able to see more than just an incremental increase in our matric results and a higher ranking of the education system.

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