We are fail­ing our chil­dren

Finweek English Edition - - UNIT TRUSTS -

“CRIME WILL NOT DE­STROY this coun­try. Corruption will not de­stroy this coun­try. What will de­stroy this coun­try is a school sys­tem that doesn’t work for the ma­jor­ity of chil­dren,” Jonathan Jansen, rec­tor and vicechan­cel­lor of the Univer­sity of the Free State, told a packed au­di­to­rium at the Gor­don In­sti­tute of Busi­ness Science on the eve of Africa Day.

Jansen raised the cry for the per­pet­u­a­tion of qual­ity stan­dards in ed­u­ca­tion. “As a univer­sity vice-chan­cel­lor, I’m un­der huge pres­sure, on a daily ba­sis, to – in the name of equity – lower the bar. I won’t. Why? Be­cause I’ve seen this movie be­fore.”

Em­ploy­ing his favoured ap­proach of ap­ply­ing his­tor­i­cal lessons to con­tem­po­rary prob­lems, Jansen pon­dered the fate of Africa’s great uni­ver­si­ties of old. “ When I was a teenager you’d do any­thing to be able to study at Mak­erere Univer­sity in Uganda with the young Mah­mood Mam­dani, you’d have given your eye teeth to go to Port Har­court in Nige­ria and be a stu­dent of Ali Mazrui, or to the Univer­sity of Dar es Salaam to be in Issa Shivzji’s po­lit­i­cal science class.” What hap­pened?

“ The po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship, in the name of equity and anti-colo­nial­ism, started to dumb down those in­sti­tu­tions so no se­ri­ous scholar … is found at those uni­ver­si­ties. They’re now found at Columbia, New York, Ox­ford in Eng­land,” ex­plained Jansen.

South Africa, said Jansen, al­ready has a num­ber of uni­ver­si­ties that are not uni­ver­si­ties. “Did you know Me­dunsa (the Med­i­cal Univer­sity of South­ern Africa) has had less than three weeks of classes this year?” Jansen asked del­e­gates. “ These are the guys who’ll be do­ing your open heart surgery. The Univer­sity of Zu­l­u­land now has an ad­min­is­tra­tor … one rea­son be­ing be­cause peo­ple sim­ply mass-pro­duced grad­u­a­tion cer­tifi­cates and handed them out all over Richards Bay and Em­pan­geni.”

Why aren’t we rail­ing against the ero­sion of ed­u­ca­tional stan­dards, asked Jansen. We should be wor­ried about moves by Umalusi (the Coun­cil for Qual­ity As­sur­ance in Gen­eral and Fur­ther Ed­u­ca­tion and Train­ing), to change the ra­tio of easy ques­tions to dif­fi­cult ques­tions in math­e­mat­ics pa­pers. “So in­stead of get­ting our teach­ing right – be­cause we’re em­bar­rassed ev­ery year by the re­sults – let’s lower the bar; in the name of equity?” South Africa is no dif­fer­ent to any other African coun­try, we have the same stresses and strains, said Jansen. But we can still fix the sys­tem. “ We should in­sist on a few ba­sics to get our schools right. Teach­ers should do the things they know in­tu­itively make for good teach­ing and good learn­ing, not the dis­trac­tions of im­ma­ture peo­ple in gov­ern­ment de­part­ments who want to im­press. Do the ba­sic things right, like at­tend classes.”

If we achieve this, said Jansen, the chil­dren will re­spond. “ We are fail­ing our chil­dren in a mas­sive way … I don’t think (peo­ple) re­alise how se­ri­ous this prob­lem is. We need to get this right.”

Mak­ing the change will, how­ever, take lead­er­ship and not the sort of self-serv­ing grasp­ing that cur­rently blights South Africa. “ We have a cri­sis of lead­er­ship and not only a cri­sis of po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship. It’s also a cri­sis of re­li­gious lead­er­ship, cor­po­rate lead­er­ship, do­mes­tic lead­er­ship and ed­u­ca­tional lead­er­ship. We have a se­ri­ous cri­sis when five or six teach­ers a day don’t show up and SADTU (the South African Demo­cratic Teach­ers’ Union) is ac­tu­ally ap­ply­ing for dou­bling the

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