It can be done
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.