The Education Conundrum
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-