It can be done

CityPress - - Voices -

Much men­tion was made this week of the Free State’s ex­cel­lent pass rate of more than 90%. The prov­ince’s se­cret weapon is the Kag­iso Shan­duka Trust – a part­ner­ship be­tween the pro­vin­cial ed­u­ca­tion depart­ment, the Kag­iso Trust and the Cyril Ramaphosa Foun­da­tion – which works in scores of schools to im­prove the qual­ity of teach­ing and in­fras­truc­ture.

What did the trust do? Noth­ing more rev­o­lu­tion­ary than go­ing to schools and ask­ing man­age­ment what they needed to do their jobs bet­ter. And then pro­vid­ing them with these re­quire­ments. Re­ally.

In a coun­try with the largest ed­u­ca­tion bud­get in Africa, it falls to out­siders to turn things around.

At the bot­tom of the class, for vir­tu­ally ev­ery year since 1994, sits the Eastern Cape – home to all five of the coun­try’s worst per­form­ing ed­u­ca­tion dis­tricts. Yet, in his speech at the re­lease of the re­sults, pro­vin­cial ed­u­ca­tion MEC Mandla Makupula made no men­tion of this. Medi­ocrity is the new as­pi­ra­tion.

This week, we heard all the old ex­cuses, and about all of the old prob­lems. Ba­sic Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Angie Mot­shekga said the foun­da­tion phase needed to be fixed. Vast num­bers of chil­dren can­not read by the end of Grade 3.

In a damn­ing ar­ti­cle pub­lished this week, The Economist re­ported that 27% of South African chil­dren who have been in state schools for six years can­not read, com­pared with 4% in Tan­za­nia and 19% in Zim­babwe.

Af­ter five years in school, about half our chil­dren can­not work out that 24 di­vided by three is eight.

Only 37% of chil­dren who start school pass matric, and only 4% of those grad­u­ate from univer­sity.

As the pub­li­ca­tion pointed out, the prob­lem is not money. We spend 6.4% of our gross do­mes­tic prod­uct on ed­u­ca­tion, whereas rich Euro­pean coun­tries spend an av­er­age of 4.8%. That is no bang for our buck.

Herein lies the prob­lem: Many of our teach­ers are abysmal and are not be­ing held to ac­count.

Teach­ers’ union Sadtu, the ele­phant in many a room this week, has cap­tured the depart­ment, in­clud­ing its up­per ech­e­lons. The union is royal game, thanks to its po­si­tion in the ANC al­liance.

In one 2007 study, Grade 6 maths teach­ers could not an­swer sim­ple ques­tions which their charges were ex­pected to know the an­swers to – and, The Economist re­ported, they were far worse than the “av­er­age 14-year-old in Sin­ga­pore and South Korea”.

A na­tional turnaround is pos­si­ble, but it re­quires will. The will to do the ba­sics, such as pro­vid­ing re­sources and in­fras­truc­ture. The will to tackle foun­da­tion-phase learn­ing. The will to in­stil a cul­ture of qual­ity teach­ing. And the will to tame the power of the de­struc­tive Sadtu.

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