At the beginning of January, the minister of Basic Education released the Class of 2009’s grade 12 results, and the figures of successful learners stood at 62 percent. Needless to say the figures had dropped and all the expected noise that accompanies the annual was, and continues to be made, even in this article! Last year’s results offered a better means of comparison with the previous year because the class of 2009 were the second group of grade 12 learners to sit for the final examinations of the new National Curriculum Statement. As a means to perhaps console those who had not passed the President Jacob Zuma boasted about the ‘toughness’ of the examination papers. Was it supposed to be ‘easy’? One thing that is deplorable about the educational ‘powers that be’ is that they focus on the end and not the foundation of our education as an indicator of the improvement or lack of it.
There can’t, at least in ‘proper’ and logical society, be an expectation to produce well equipped learners for the future when their basic numerical and literary comprehension is found wanting, if not non existent. The teachers that are employed to teach in the primary phase of schooling must be thoroughly qualified for such exercises because they create the backdrop against which every other step of education will follow. Should teachers in the preparatory and primary phases ‘fail’ to plant the seeds in the required manner, then, there shouldn’t be any expectation of good harvest twelve years later.
There is a persistent perspective that seems to think that the responsibility of fixing our chronic education system only rests with the State. Education by its very nature is a social phenomenon, purely because the exposure or lack of it has implications on the social cohesion of any society. So, that means that each and every part of society has a role to play in ensuring that the machinery of education is constantly functioning effectively to meet societal requirements. The government as the political leadership has to ensure that a conducive environment for effective teaching and learning is created. This has to be done through the building of schools with a large enough capacity to absorb the demand for education. Quality learning can’t take place under trees or in over crowded classrooms. The government through its structures of employment of teachers must pick the cream of the crop to fill the posts for its educational vacancies and must remunerate the said teachers well enough to continuously attract and keep the in the public schooling sector. It is unfair to expect teachers to work their socks off for peanuts. Teaching is a profession and that must be reflected in the remuneration packages offered to teachers. The government also has a responsibility act swiftly and firmly against teachers who do not perform as required. They must make it known that for every minute of teaching lost there are grimmer consequences that lie ahead for the country. Government must ban political campaigning on school premises. Trade union duties must not take preference over teaching. Sadly, one of the reasons many schools in the townships of South Africa produce dire results is because teachers are quick to claim their labour rights and forget that the said rights are married to their respective responsibilities. The issue of union work take centre place in the psyche of teachers in South Africa will not end now and this is because the largest teachers’ union in the country, SADTU is an affiliate of the Congress of South African Trade Unions which is part of the ANC led political alliance.
A more critical link in the chain of educational responsibility is that of parents. Gone are the days when parents would abdicate their children to schools and not be participants in their education. Parents must constantly be active in teacher-parent processes because learning takes place both at school and at home. It’s through these processes that parents get a chance to influence the policies upon which schools function and know what their children are being taught and particularly how they are being taught.The greater society must realise that schooling structures belong to the public and that they are there for the improvement of the society in any means that warrants that. If schools are damaged who does it hurt in the end?
Education is an inter-generational mechanism. That means that if parents of any schooling child went to a well resourced private school where the teacher- learner ratio is acceptable, then such a child stands a better chance of continuing that educational legacy that (s)he would have received and as a result the trajectory of success that comes with successive generations being exposed to a good schooling experience. Can the kind of educational output be expected from a child whose parents were products of under resourced schooling coupled with careless teaching methods? It would be too great an expectation on our part to think that children of the same country but extremely different schooling experiences can compete equally for the same vacancies and be equal participants in the economy of the country. In an article published in the Sowetan, AZAPO president, Mosibudi Mangena wrote the following, “Considering that it is mainly black children in township and rural schools who are at the receiving end of this disaster, the consequences are even more tragic.”As long as the educational machinery isn’t designed to produce an equal and quality assured product, the, the cleavage of social inequality will continue to widen and that will not ameliorate the fight against poverty at all. The alacrity with which funds were organized for the building of world class stadia for the forth coming soccer world cup must be afforded to the building of fully functioning and state of the art libraries in township and rural schools. How do we harbour aspirations of being a developmental state while the very means- effective schooling- of delivery trivialized.
Through education, whose implementation ought to be over seen by professional steeped in experience, we have a chance of divorcing with situations that lead to the exploitation of people through cheap labour, school dropouts and so forth. We currently have two growing extremes in the South African society, one is an arrogantly opulent class, while on the other hand there is the desperately destitute class. When, not if, these forces collide the impact will be of relentless calamity. At that juncture morality will fall by the wayside because deprivation, especially when institutional, erodes the mind of any logic and stifles one’s conscience. For a country like our own, one of the ways to avert this is through education.