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The Issues with South Africa’s Education System

by Mduduzi Mbiza

As South Africans, we might think that our education system is one of the best on the African continent. However, researcher and entrepreneur, Mduduzi Mbiza has investigated the system. The facts he has found reveal how critical the situation actually is.

Education is a major aspect of every country. In South Africa, it has been praised, encouraged and respected. This is due to the fact that many South African parents come from a previously disadvantaged background and were never granted access to a decent education. Nelson Mandela famously said,

Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

The Situation

Post-1994, almost every parent desperately wanted their child to be in school. Understandably so – the value of education has never been better understood than how it was in post-Apartheid South Africa. The reality is that Grade 1 is a big deal for parents who didn’t have the same opportunity. This is still a great joy to many South African parents.

However, for some, the joy fades away as their child progresses through school. This is a direct result of the challenges facing our education system. A system that often produces clueless learners.

How is the System Failing?

This may seem harsh but there is strong evidence to support the statement. Let’s take a look at the system as it stands. One may ask the question: can an education system be influenced by money? Through statistical research I’ve conducted, using secondary data, it’s evident that the issue doesn’t centre around how rich an education system is. For instance, South Africa spends more on education than the United States of America (USA) and the United Kingdom (UK).

Here are the facts: 15% of South Africa’s total budget was spent on basic education in the last 12 months that ended March 2016. That is about R213.7bn.

Regardless of the money spent, South Africa’s primary education system was rated 126th out of 138 countries in the World Economic Forum 2016–17 Global Competitiveness Report. While South Africa’s higher education and training was ranked 134th. No comment needed – these rankings are dismal. End of story.

Is the system really that bad?

Here’s some perspective. South Africa’s education system performs worse than poorer nations such as Zimbabwe, Kenya and Swaziland. This clearly shows that our education system does not reflect the money we’ve put into the system.

Regardless of this fact, our government continues to build more schools.

In addition to this, statistics S.A’s 2013 general household survey cited teacher-related issues as the top challenge facing public schools. The Southern and Eastern African Consortium for Monitoring Education Quality (SACMEQ) found that 60% of Maths teachers, educating learners from grade 1 to grade 6, failed to pass tests for Maths at the grade level.

South Africa also had the highest rate of teacher absenteeism, when compared to the other 14 countries that participated in SACMEQ III in 2007.  Please note that these stats are based on data from 11 years ago and the provincial data may tell a different story.  Provinces such as Gauteng, Free State and the Western Cape have invested in training to improve district education systems.  However, in terms of the country as a whole, this is the latest information available.  If the purpose is to improve the education system, then it clearly shows that the money isn’t adding any sustainable value. It’s just there because it has to be there.

So, what are the solutions?

The purpose of this article is not to simply point out these numbers to shame our government, but to provide, what may be, possible solutions.

For starters, the department should look into adopting the curriculum and models used by independent schools.  Or at the very least, they should investigate the idea of working together. It’s no secret that independent schools excel, even though they only make up about 5% of the school-population in South Africa.

Perhaps, South Africa can also get some tips from other African nations. How well does the department actually know the education systems in Kenya, Zimbabwe and Swaziland? Instead of researching our own system, more research could be put towards studying African countries that have better education rankings. What are they doing that we are not? How can we improve?

The department could re-open teacher training institutes that were closed post-1994. Prioritize the education qualification. Having high standards for teachers is something that the countries with top-ranked education systems encourage. For instance, in Finland, teachers are expected to acquire a master’s degree in the subject they teach before they can teach.

EduConnect 2Cents            

On a final note, the department could focus on the learners. This could involve looking into creating a system that supports the kids who drop out and/or stay stuck in certain grades. Perhaps there should also be a system for those who fail.

The education department could also build a system that will integrate a relationship between schools and parents. A system that will create home-based programmes that parents can utilize in order to encourage a reading culture. Libraries are not enough if learners spend most of their time at home. Parents need to be more involved, and the department needs to reach out to them. This is key in creating a balanced education space where teachers are really engaging with learners and parents are encouraging a learning mentality.

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