New sys­tem, same fail­ures

CityPress - - Voices -

With­out solv­ing the ba­sic prob­lems plagu­ing ed­u­ca­tion, in­tro­duc­ing a new model will only worsen mat­ters, write

For a re­form that is meant to re­shape the ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem, the three-stream cur­ricu­lum model was barely men­tioned in Ba­sic Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Angie Mot­shekga’s re­cent bud­get vote speech. The plan aims to send more learn­ers into tech­ni­cal ed­u­ca­tion. While it has been op­ti­misti­cally trum­peted as a ma­jor change, con­crete de­tails are scarce.

The project is to be­gin next year, although the cur­ricu­lum for one tech­ni­cal stream has not yet been pub­lished for pub­lic com­ment. De­lay­ing the re­lease of in­for­ma­tion un­til just be­fore im­ple­men­ta­tion lim­its the pub­lic’s abil­ity to en­gage ef­fec­tively with the pro­pos­als, and sug­gests that the plan will go ahead re­gard­less of what peo­ple say.

This is un­for­tu­nate, given that the jus­ti­fi­ca­tion of­fered by the de­part­ment of ba­sic ed­u­ca­tion – curb­ing the dropout rate and stim­u­lat­ing eco­nomic growth – is prob­lem­atic. Firstly, it is false to say that learn­ers drop out be­cause of a lack of aca­demic in­cli­na­tion. Many dropouts are de­ter­mined by poverty and so­cial dis­lo­ca­tion; oth­ers, it is true, are linked to learn­ing deficits, but are also shaped by broader con­di­tions at their schools, such as in­fra­struc­ture, well­trained teach­ers, and pro­vi­sion (or lack) of nutri­tion pro­grammes and scholar trans­port.

More­over, the promised eco­nomic ben­e­fits of these re­forms are likely to be il­lu­sive. In an econ­omy that has seen many in­dus­tries col­lapse, tak­ing away learn­ers’ sec­ondary ed­u­ca­tion and abil­ity to study fur­ther is ex­tremely risky.

The new scheme stands to ren­der in­equal­i­ties even more im­per­me­able than be­fore, and it de­mands more from a ba­sic ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem al­ready fail­ing to pro­vide school in­fra­struc­ture or high-qual­ity teach­ing.

This sys­tem will run par­al­lel to the ex­ist­ing tech­ni­cal col­leges, but looks likely to suc­cumb to the same pit­falls.

For­mal­is­ing ex­ist­ing pat­terns Tshepo Mot­sepe, Claire Lester and Daniel Sher

The three-stream sys­tem is likely to re­pro­duce ex­ist­ing racial and eco­nomic in­equal­i­ties. Learn­ers who at­tend well­re­sourced schools are more likely to per­form well in tests, given that these schools have bet­ter fa­cil­i­ties and can af­ford more teach­ers. If stream­ing is based on these scores, learn­ers from poor and work­ing class com­mu­ni­ties will be dis­pro­por­tion­ately placed in vo­ca­tional and oc­cu­pa­tional streams, as they tend to at­tend poorly re­sourced schools nearby. Ul­ti­mately, this will limit rather than en­hance their em­ploy­ment op­tions, and hence limit their class mo­bil­ity.

Tech­ni­cal train­ing al­ready on of­fer

There is an al­ter­na­tive, tech­ni­cal stream of ed­u­ca­tion of­fered by the Tech­ni­cal Vo­ca­tional Ed­u­ca­tion and Train­ing (TVET) col­leges, run by the de­part­ment of higher ed­u­ca­tion and train­ing. Stu­dents can en­rol for a Na­tional Cer­tifi­cate Vo­ca­tional (NCV) af­ter Grade 9. This cer­tifi­cate was in­tro­duced to re­place the old ap­pren­tice­ship pro­gramme, as its the­ory courses were only three months long. It was in­tended to be broader than an ap­pren­tice­ship, in­clude gen­eral ed­u­ca­tion and in­volve full cal­en­dar years of study.

But although the new cur­ricu­lum has been in place for about 10 years, it has nei­ther sub­stan­tially im­proved skill lev­els, nor stim­u­lated eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment. The new courses the col­leges had to teach were with­out prece­dent, and lec­tur­ers were ill-pre­pared for the de­mand­ing changes. As a re­sult, the qual­ity of teach­ing has of­ten been poor.

In ad­di­tion, the cur­ricu­lum is chal­leng­ing and does not nec­es­sar­ily pro­vide a sim­pler av­enue of study. Poor pri­mary and high school ed­u­ca­tion of­ten leaves learn­ers un­pre­pared for suc­cess in vo­ca­tional and aca­demic fields. Con­se­quently, many stu­dents do not progress to the next year of study.

Re­search con­ducted in 2013 by the Hu­man Sciences Re­search Coun­cil showed an 8.8% com­ple­tion rate for the first year of the NCV, and a 3.2% rate for the sec­ond. Nor are grad­u­ates all leav­ing with high skill lev­els. Grad­u­ates of TVET col­leges still ex­pe­ri­ence high un­em­ploy­ment rates and the NCV courses ap­pear to have low mar­ket value. These de­fi­cien­cies in the ex­ist­ing vo­ca­tional ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem are warn­ing signs for the three-stream sys­tem.

South Africa’s ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem has deep-seated ad­min­is­tra­tive, in­fras­truc­tural and teacher-re­lated prob­lems. Ac­cord­ing to 2015 data, 10 419 schools still have pit toi­lets; 3 767 have no, or un­re­li­able, elec­tric­ity; and 5 225 have no, or an un­re­li­able, wa­ter sup­ply. The new model does not speak to these is­sues but places greater de­mands on an al­ready fail­ing sys­tem: 60% of schools will now also need work­shops, equip­ment and newly trained teacher-ar­ti­sans.

Gov­ern­ment needs to strengthen ed­u­ca­tion at foun­da­tion level: pri­ori­tis­ing early child­hood de­vel­op­ment, and pro­vid­ing schools with in­fra­struc­ture and well-trained teach­ers. Qual­ity, equal ed­u­ca­tion will meet the coun­try’s needs far bet­ter than in­tro­duc­ing fur­ther bi­fur­ca­tions. Mot­sepe is the gen­eral sec­re­tary, while Lester and Sher

are re­searchers at Equal Ed­u­ca­tion

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