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Newsletter » Education in South Africa: Where did it go wrong?


South Africa spends 20 percent of its budget on education, or 6.4 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) and yet performs dismally in international comparisons. The World Economic Forum's competitiveness index for 2012-2013 ranks South Africa's overall education system at 140 out of 144 countries, and its maths and science education at 143 out of 144.

The minister of baic education, Angie Motshekga, denies there is a crisis. She must be in serious denial. 1.2 million children were enrolled in grade 1 in 2001, but only 44 percent stayed in the system to take their National Senior Certificate (NSC) in 2012. Only 12 percent of that grade 1 generation ended up passing their NSC well enough to study for a university degree, and only 11 percent passed maths with a mark of 40 percent or above.

Why then is South Africa not reaping what is spends? There are 3 critical factors that affect educational outcomes, teachers, the management and outside disruptions to schooling. Jenifer Schindler, a specialist manager at JET Education Serveices, a non-profit research and development organization, terms these, in classroom factors, such as leadership and management, and out of school factors, such as parental involvement and socio-economic circumstances.

Madelaine, 62, is a teacher with 40 years' experience in a formerly white public high school east of Johannesburg. She agrees that teachers do not know enough, they are not taught everything that is required. Recently, a department head in her school gave a test to pupils that were studying tourism. It asked them to name two countries in South America. Italy was among the answers suggested by the department head, Madelaine says. "A professional attitude needs to be instilled into young peoplr entering the teaching profession. For many people, it is "sheltered employment", as they fail to meet deadliness and present quality lessons and yet are never questioned", she says.

One solution would be to introduce school inspectors for monitoring the teachers. The South African Democratic Teachers Union (SADTU), the country's largest teaching union, is opposed. Their stance leads back to a time when inspectors from the white National Party government were viewed with suspicion in black schools. "They were just there to find fault, policing teachers without playing a development role", says Mugwena Maluleke, SADTU general secretary, in December 2012 when President Jacob Zuma proposed reintroducing inspectors. However, Schindler suggests that much can be done without inspectors.  However, Schindler suggests that much can be done without inspectors. "There are 2 factors crucial in education: teachers and management," she says. "A well run school will almost always have a good principal."

School management, which largely depends on principals, is one of the "in-schools" factors mentioned by Schindler. Education district offices, which fall under provincial education departments, are supposed to support and monitor schools in administration and subject areas. However, Schindler says, the districts often understaffed and their personnel may not have the right skills. The district cannot visit and support schools often or effectively enought to ensure good quality education.

Without well-functioning district support and monitoring, a school's success often comes down to its principal. School governing bodies (SGB) hire principals subject to approval of the prinicpal heads of department. A well run school is therefore likely to have a well functioning SGB.

Another critical factor is that two-thirds of South African children do not live in the same household as their biological parents. Poverty and adult iliteracy often prevent parents who are present from getting involved in their children's education. Parents play a huge role, but I personally think that often most parents don't have the knowledge of how to help.

Other out of school factors, such as poverty, restrain the attitude of parents and society towards education. Socioeconomic factors go down through generations and plainly affect educational outcomes for the children. Some 36 percent of seven to 24 yeard olds are not in education because they do not have enough money for the payment of fees, according to the statistics of South Africa. Family commitments, having to work at home, and pregnancy account for another 26 percent of those not receiving instructions or general knowledge. Only  seven percent are not in education because they consider it useless.

Many  bright young minds are missing out on the chance or opportunity of getting a higher education because they cannot afford it. There are not enough bursaries for the generations of students now coming out of the school system, even if you exclude those students that are not qualified to study for a higher education.

This is a growing problem in South Africa and if we do nothing about it now, the problem is only going to grow bigger and we will then reach to a stage where no amount of solutions will solve this issue. We need to work together now to put a stop to all these issues in any way that we can so that every child has a fair fighting chance to take control of his/her own future. Principals and teachers should work together for the children and not against them, we need to put in more effort into teaching the students as each generation is the future for us all and that will either make us or break us as a country and an economy.

What are your thoughts about our education industry? Is there still hope for us? Can we change our ranking position from next to last to atleast the top 30 schools? Send us an email on what you think.