The Ed­u­ca­tion Co­nun­drum

Finweek English Edition - - UNIT TRUSTS -

RE­FER­RING to a re­cent dis­cus­sion with ed­u­ca­tion spe­cial­ist Dr Gra­ham Bloch, Can­non As­set Man­agers’ Chief In­vest­ment Of­fi­cer, Dr Adrian Sav­ille, dis­cussed some wor­ry­ing stats at the GIBS Fore­sight 2011 Fo­rum. “In the re­gion of 80% of South African schools are es­sen­tially dys­func­tional. Of the 24 000, 3 000 have no elec­tric­ity, 3 500 have no run­ning wa­ter, 90% have no li­brary.”

This, for Sav­ille, had im­pli­ca­tions be­yond the ob­vi­ous fail­ures in the ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem. “ The Freako­nomics guys, Steven Levitt and Stephen Dub­ner, say one of the biggest ex­plain­ers of so­cial and eco­nomic ad­vance of chil­dren in the US is the num­ber of books at home. It’s not what their par­ents do; it’s not where they live; or what schools they go to. It’s if they have books at home. If 90% of our kids don’t have ac­cess to books at school then I’d ven­ture the chance of them hav­ing ac­cess at home is re­mote.”

Look­ing to­wards 2011 and be­yond, some of the great­est chal­lenges fac­ing South Africa re­late to hu­man cap­i­tal, skills, un­em­ploy­ment, youth in­volve­ment and youth dis­il­lu­sion­ment. In a world where de­vel­oped economies are bat­tling prob­lems of age­ing cit­i­zens, the over­whelm­ingly young African pop­u­la­tion presents its own unique dy­nam­ics.

Speak­ing at the Fo­rum, Gaut­eng MEC for Ed­u­ca­tion Bar­bara Creecy ac­knowl­edged that “what is com­ing out of our ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem is not meet­ing the needs of our econ­omy or our so­ci­ety”. While Creecy stressed that ed­u­ca­tion was govern­ment’s “num­ber one pri­or­ity” which re­ceived solid bud­getary sup­port, she in­di­cated a shift from quan­tity-fo­cused ed­u­ca­tion to qual­ity. In its first 15 years the ANC govern­ment’s ed­u­ca­tion pri­or­ity was on “re­dress, ac­cess and equal­ity” which has seen “97%-98% of chil­dren go­ing to high school”, but now the prob­lem is sim­ply that “learner per­for­mance is not im­prov­ing”.

It’s here that the statis­tics un­ravel. “ We have al­most 50% of learn­ers go­ing into high school not be­ing able to read and write. Where 46% of learn­ers in this prov­ince can’t do ba­sic math­e­mat­ics af­ter six years of for­mal school­ing,” ac­knowl­edged Creecy.

The causes are both in­sti­tu­tional and learn­ing re­lated and, again, the num­bers are dis­turb­ing. “In Gaut­eng,” said Creecy, “we have 2 300 state schools, 1 900 of them need ma­jor ren­o­va­tion. We have a short­age of 212 schools in this prov­ince be­cause ev­ery year we get (be­tween) 35 000 and 45 000 chil­dren who mi­grate into this prov­ince from other prov­inces and from else­where in Africa. So not only have we not man­aged to ad­dress his­tor­i­cal back­logs but the back­logs get greater and greater.”

The teach­ing-re­lated fac­tors are equally damn­ing. “From our analy­ses we find that ev­ery year in our un­der­per­form­ing schools only 60% of the cur­ricu­lum gets cov­ered. So chil­dren don’t just have back­logs (in 2010) be­cause there was a strike and the World Cup, they have back­logs from all the other years where they’ve only cov­ered 60% of the cur­ricu­lum,” ex­plained Creecy.

In essence, while in Gaut­eng most teach­ers hold a four-year un­der­grad­u­ate de­gree and a teach­ing diploma – mak­ing them among the best qual­i­fied in the coun­try – they still bat­tle with the cur­ricu­lum. Creecy said in 2008 when the Depart­ment con­ducted maths and lit­er­acy tests of Grade 3 and Grade 6 learn­ers, “we got the ma­tric maths teach­ers to write the Grade 6 maths test. Only 60% passed.”

Creecy said her Depart­ment has a three­p­ronged ap­proach to tack­ling the prob­lem:

“For next year we’ve worked out what has to be cov­ered in the cur­ricu­lum in ev­ery sub­ject, in ev­ery grade, in ev­ery week, in ev­ery term of the year,” she said. Teach­ers, heads of de­part-

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