Rev­o­lu­tion­is­ing ed­u­ca­tion in SA

Finweek English Edition - - INSIDE - BY JON PIEN­AAR

Api­oneer­ing project in eight ur b a n s c hool s in t he West­ern Cape a i ms to bridge the gap be­tween kids from poor schools and their wealth­ier coun­ter­parts. Ed­u­ca­tion stan­dards are low and dropout rates are high in South Africa, re­sult­ing in a lack of skilled work­ers en­ter­ing the labour mar­ket. This will con­tinue to im­pact neg­a­tively on the econ­omy and stif le en­trepreneur­ship. But the West­ern Cape has em­barked on a pi­lot project in an at­tempt to counter this.

Some 11.6m South Africans are un­em­ployed, of which 8.7m are youths aged 15 to 34. Youths make up onethird of the South African pop­u­la­tion, and they are the group with the high­est level of un­em­ploy­ment. For a de­vel­op­ing econ­omy, that’s bad news: it means that not enough peo­ple are up-skilling at ter­tiary in­sti­tu­tions. It means that those who are meant to be gain­ing ex­pe­ri­ence in the work­place are not. It also means that busi­nesses are not in­vest­ing in the fu­ture, and one of the main rea­sons for this is the low lit­er­acy and nu­mer­acy level in school-leavers.

Ac­cord­ing to OLICO’s An­drew Bar­rett, busi­nesses are not will­ing to risk

hir­ing the wrong peo­ple. “One of their big­gest chal­lenges must be find­ing the right peo­ple,” says Bar­rett, adding: “We even feel it our­selves in our space when we’re look­ing to hire: it’s re­ally hard, it’s re­ally tough to f ind skilled peo­ple. Every­body’s re­ally risk averse in the cur­rent cli­mate, and you don’t want to take a risk on an em­ployee be­cause if they don’t add prop­erly it could be dis­as­trous.” The cost of train­ing some­one from such a low base is also a fac­tor.


It is es­ti­mated t hat of t he 24 000 gov­ern­ment-funded schools in SA, some 20 000 are dys­func­tional, with many learn­ers leav­ing school func­tion­ally il l it­er­ate and in­nu­mer­ate. The gap in ed­u­ca­tion is di­rectly re­lated to the poverty gap, with learn­ers in wealthy ar­eas per­form­ing at par, while those in the poorer ar­eas fall be­hind vir­tu­ally from the start.

That’s ac­cord­ing to Ni­cholas Spaull and Janeli Kotzé of the depart­ment of eco­nomics at Stel­len­bosch Uni­ver­sity, whose re­search found that the poor maths foun­da­tion learn­ers are get­ting in the early grades re­sults in a grow­ing gap be­tween the poor­est 60% of the learn­ers and the wealth­i­est 20%, with just 16% of Grade 3 learn­ers per­form­ing at the re­quired level.

By the time th­ese t wo groups of learn­ers reach Grade 9, there is a gap of four grade lev­els be­tween them. Spaull says that af­ter six years of for­mal full­time school­ing, “far too many chil­dren in South Africa can­not read, write and com­pute at even the most ba­sic lev­els”.

In 2014, about one in seven matrics who sat the maths exam passed. There has also been a drop-off in the num­ber of matrics elect­ing to write maths, pre­fer­ring the eas­ier op­tion of maths lit­er­acy.

The pic­ture is made even bleaker when one con­sid­ers the high dropout rate. Of the 1 261 827 learn­ers who of­fi­cially started Grade 1 in 2002, only 562 112 wrote ma­tric. Ex­trap­o­lat­ing this to the ma­tric pass mark, only 14 out of 100 learn­ers who went to school in 2002 achieved a level of ed­u­ca­tion that would al­low them to en­ter a ter­tiary in­sti­tu­tion.

The other 86% have en­tered the job-mar­ket, un­qual­i­fied for any­thing but the most me­nial of jobs. Clearly, it’s not just the chil­dren who are fail­ing school, it’s the schools that are fail­ing the chil­dren.

Bar­rett’s ex­pe­ri­ence in Diep­sloot seems to con­firm Spaull and Kotzé’s re­search. “When we take them in at Grade 7, most of the learn­ers who ar­rive at our cen­tre are about two to four years be­hind where they should be,” says Bar­rett. “So what we’re try­ing to do is cre­ate a re­ally tai­lored foun­da­tional skills and a step-by-step process for the learn­ers to get through on com­put­ers, and then be sup­ported by fa­cil­i­ta­tors.” The Diep­sloot stu­dents were given ba­sic in­ter­net and com­puter lit­er­acy train­ing be­cause many had never been on the net be­fore.

OLICO has de­vel­oped a Learner Man­age­ment Sys­tem that tracks each learner’s progress, and makes sure that ad­e­quate re­vi­sion is done at each stage, which al­lows one per­son to keep track of many learn­ers.

Bar­rett ex­plains that the aim is not to re­place teach­ers. “It’s a sup­ple­ment and we’re very much try­ing to f ind a way to bridge that gap; so it’s ba­si­cally cre­at­ing a path­way to high school math­e­mat­ics. So by the time they get to Grade 9 they can write their ANAs [An­nual Na­tional As­sess­ments], they can do rea­son­ably okay in the ANAs, but more im­por­tantly they can en­ter Grade 10 algebra and be able to re­ally wres­tle with it prop­erly,” says Bar­rett.

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