Mandela Rhodes Scholars
Mandela Rhodes Scholars

Classrooms in South Africa are failing our children

By Athambile Masola

Recently, in preparation for my Masters thesis, I have been observing Grade 1 classes in Grahamstown schools. This has helped me get a feel for the reality of classroom conditions in the impoverished schools in the town, along with the concerns of teachers.

The surrounding context of these schools is not the lush green lawn and playground safely bound in fencing. Many of these schools lack sporting facilities, jungle gyms or swings for the younger children. The view from the classrooms are the mud-houses and shacks that some of these children walk from every day, derelict “homes” that are at the mercy of any whim of the Grahamstown weather. I have made various observations from visiting these classrooms and interacting with teachers who are doing the most important job in South Africa with the least recognition.

Today I was with a teacher who has been in the profession for 41 years. This is her final year in the classroom; she’s retiring with another colleague who has been teaching for the same amount of time. Another teacher I spoke to had worked for over 30 years; in Grade 1 classrooms.

I’m beginning to realise that most of the teachers in the foundation phase are much older and starting to retire. What does this mean for South African classrooms? This is perhaps frightening, as few young black people are interested in becoming teachers in order to educate the masses of African language-speaking children in their mother tongues. I wonder why we bother advocating a mother-tongue education in the formative years if the number of suitably trained and qualified teachers does not meet the demands?

Apart from talking to the teachers, I’m also learning about their practice and what it takes to teach children how to read and write — often many walk into these classrooms with little or no knowledge of these skills. Being able to read and write is something I think many of us take for granted. Something as simple as reading an SMS needs the skills we learned way back in grade one.

I still remember feeling like a writer in grade one when the entire school magazine was made up of our stories. Even though I was not educated in my mother tongue (this only happened in my third year at varsity), I was still able to express my creativity and put a few sentences together to form a coherent story. I had the privilege of a school library that was made accessible to all pupils, and a community library in walking distance that supplied me with the kind of books I needed to get as much exposure to reading as possible. This is not the case for many of the pupils I saw in these classrooms.

School libraries and even a classroom library are non-existent. Where there is a library in the community, the librarians face the problem of encouraging learners to read books purely for enjoyment and not just the functional purpose of school projects. I realised that this was not possible for all children. The classes are as big as 40 and the teacher has to use creative means of monitoring each child regardless of legislation that proposes a ratio less than this.

Having 40 children in a class means that the teacher is not able to know if all the children in the class are able to read.

In another classroom I observed how language becomes a barrier to learning in a classroom where English is used for teaching and learning, especially if the teacher does not have any knowledge of the pupil’s mother tongue. It’s a pity that parents cannot make the time to visit their children’s classes the way I have been able to; I think they would feel differently about having their children taught in English — an almost foreign language.

It’s frustrating reading about the dismal failure rates in rural and township schools when the matric results are released. It’s even more frightening seeing how the calamity begins at a grade one level. The purpose of this insight is not to berate the teachers but share my experience of the conditions in South Africa’s classrooms.

It is not a surprise that the results from an international reading study, PIRLS, in 2006, showed that South Africa was the worst performing country when our grade four and five pupils were included in the study. The test was administered in the languages that the children where exposed to in their classrooms and pupils who were being taught in Afrikaans were the better performers, followed by those learning in English. Pupils taught in African languages were at the bottom. Not only were South African pupils reaching below the mean set out in this study, we were worse off than countries that weren’t spending as much as we are in education.

I’m making many claims in this article:

  • We need more teachers for education in the formative years
  • We need more teachers who can teach in the African languages in South Africa
  • We need smaller classrooms
  • We have to make literacy an important part of our education by having communities that support literacy through mobile or community libraries
  • We need civic involvement in education where the results become everybody’s problem — not just the teachers

I’m sure we all agree on these imperatives, but underlying them all is the need to address the inequalities we see in our communities because until this is done, our classrooms will be a reminder of how we are failing masses of the children in South Africa.

  • Athambile Masola is a disgruntled student of education at Rhodes University
    • Atlas Reader

      Your “claims” are just a wish-list. They’re devoid of strategy.

    • Carl

      Having spotted the elephant, someone needs to show it to our leaders – and get them to show the leadership necessary to guide it out of the classroom.

      Its our biggest failure since democratisation and the only response most of us (including most of us in government) seem capable of is to purchase private education for our precious ones – leaving the less affluent to suffer a fate as bad as bantu education.

    • Sparks

      Well written article and is up to point. IN FET phase we are expected to teach what was supposed to have been done in those grade. That is so difficult to doas we are supposed to be after the syllabus

    • Jean Wright

      Clearly it will never be posible to have suitably qualified teachers in all the African Languages. Therefore it would be practical to choose one global language (which can be understood outside South Africa) as this would be of more use to the child in later years. Sory, not PC but a fact. Who is going to understand an indigineous S.A. language when doing business later? Not many parents seem remotely interested in their childrens’ progress at school, but active PTA associations would be a help. Children are more able to learn ‘foreign’ languages at an early age. In India where there are also many tribal languages, English was generally chosen for most communications. A LOT more funding should be provided from the Government instead of being squandered elsewhere. Smaller classes, certainly, but taught by whom? You will need more (English speaking?!) teachers!! And books printed (in which language? Remember the cost of print runs!!) The object of education is of course to fit children for success in later life, regret that an African language is unlikely to do this.

    • MLH

      About 15 years ago, an eighty-year-old former teacher told me that her first post after graduation took her to the Jhb inner city. Years later, I attended the same public school and can vouch for much of what she said.
      She started teaching Grade 1s at a time when pre-schools didn’t exist. She said only one child in her class of 36 girls used English at home. Most of the kids who attended that school were of Greek, Italian or Portuguese origin, were new to the country and neither parent spoke English. Many lived with grandparents who would never learn English.
      Ultimately, the parents learnt the language at the same time as the child.
      I will never forget her point: ‘They may not have heard English before, but by the end of that year they passed. I never heard of one that failed a year of their schooling. Things were just different then.’
      Our problem is that we’ve either failed to understand the difference or are simply loath to apply it.

      In retrospect, I never attended a school with a jungle gym or swings, either in South Africa or the UK, where I was born.
      As long as kids are taught to believe they have an ‘out’ they will use it.
      It takes just a few minutes to learn whether a child can read. If he/she can’t, a few seconds will suffice. There are enough hours in a school week for this!

    • Rory Short

      @Athambile you are absolutely right. The proper education of upcoming generations should be the top priority of any worthwhile State and its leadership. We fail abysmally in this regard, I am afraid, as our leadership, by its behaviour, seems to place personal enrichment, by any and every means, at the top of its personal agenda. Such people are appalling role models for our children.

    • Benzol

      “The test was administered in the languages that the children where exposed to in their classrooms and pupils who were being taught in Afrikaans were the better performers, followed by those learning in English. Pupils taught in African languages were at the bottom.”

      Effective learning in the mother tongue, how effective it could be from a pupil perspective, seems highly impossible with the 11 official languages.

      The logistics of the supply of all those teachers on the places where they would be needed would be a nightmare. Control on performance of teachers, given recent reports on many non-performing teachers, would become impossible.

      Introducing “one language” for teaching? Afrikaans? As it produces the best performers?
      Another Soweto uprising??

      As far as material and books is concerned, all schools get roughly the same budget depending on the number of students. Some schools supplement their income by “activities”.

      Some schools attract learners from other areas. Why? Because they are known for being “good” or “the best”. This is the result of hard work by headmaster and staff well supported by the parents. Other schools will get nowhere. Why??

    • Pragmatist

      It is widely held that apartheid education was designed to limit the potential of the masses.
      Are the present regime incapable or are they deliberately dumbing down the new generation to maintain their elitism?
      Health, Education and Justice are the keys to the upliftment of the masses and prosperity for all.
      These issues are fundamental and should transcend politics ….. but they don’t.
      Well done Athambile! your thesis is very relevant.
      Go forth and make a difference.

    • africa lover

      you are right of course but allow me to say that you are not the first to make hese observations. The dismal situation, not only of schools in underpriviledged communities, but of the communities themselves, has been pointed over and over again as the root of the education failure….
      Since you mention the all important issue of language, maybe one should emphasize the fact that the use of African languages as LoLT is restricted to disfunctionnal schools. Whereas mother tongue instruction is pedagogically sound, no African parent who can do otherwise will place her/his children in such schools… There need to be a drastic change for the situation to improve: that implies for the disfunctionnal schools to be upgraded in all aspects, including probably specific incentives to teachers, and also that African languages be used in so-called ex-model C schools some of which have now a large majority of black pupils…

      we are not there yet. Maybe when the WC hype is over….

    • blogroid

      I am a chalk face ‘learning outcomes mediator’ reaching retirement age, working at the other end of the chain, with my last round of Grade 12 learners. Contrary to expectation my job seems to be getting more and more difficult with so-called “learners” being generally less and less interested in “learning”

      My classes are drawn predominantly from the formerly disadvantaged community, and by the standards of what you describe are privileged to have good access to modern media and old fashioned libraries.
      Notwithstanding this, I have noted over many years that the sheer weight of ‘functional’ reading to meet the demands of the new education programme, poisons the desire to read for pleasure. Reading is perceived as having only purpose, and it is associated with “work”. Few people love “work”.
      Girls seem to read for pleasure more than boys, assuming one counts Harry Potter and the Twilight series “reading”;
      Neither gender does much more than could be described as a marginal activity. It is not for nothing that there is barely a single decent bookshop anywhere between JHB and cape town.

      I am routinely told that in any one year during the past decade the sales of fiction literature compare unfavourably with the turnover of, for instance, YOU magazine

      I do not hold out any expectation that ‘reading” for entertainment will be making a comeback anytime soon. It seems to be in decline generally.
      A-literacy it seems is the surprising outcome of eliminating illiteracy.

    • Malose Nyatlo

      In 2000, whilst participating in a Maths/Science/Technology project preparing teachers for the advent of Curriculum 2005, I asked one educationist, who happened to be Afrikaner,why our children, especially Blacks, were generally performing so poorly in the Sciences in particular. Because I feared she would give a politically correct response, I allowed her to be brutal or racist if needs be.
      After searching her soul and her wealth of experience in education, she pointed at poor family structures in communities where Black learners came from – children brought up by grannies whilst dad and mom worked as migrants somewhere in the cities.Today, ten years down the line, learners who sit in front of me daily to get their Maths dose are far worse than their counterparts in 2000 – many of then are orphaned, hungry and lethargic.
      That’s another side of the coin Athambile did not deliberate on.
      Your average teacher is aged 40 plus, no one wants to join the profession, working conditions are deplorable…Where to from here?

    • Rod of Sydney

      Why don’t we have teacher aides? Get foreign volunteers from Europe/Aus/USA. They would pay to spend time helping out.

    • DeMing

      And here I sit teaching 4th grade in Shanghai China. These kids speak, read and write Chinese and English. How it this possible? The government is serious about education. They know knowledge is power. The SA problem needs to fall flat at the feet of the ANC. I am tired of watching our leaders who think personality and charm are enough to lead. One does not become a government leader in China without being educated. The educated know the value of education.

    • Nimi Hoffmann

      Athambile – I hear you all the way sister! Are you part of Equal Education yet? By the way, if you’re interested, some friends of mine who send their children to a pre-primary school in Joza are trying to fight for parent involvement in schooling (much to the ire of the teachers). If you’re interested, I could hook you up with them.

      Find me on Facebook and I’ll send you their email addresses.

      From the girl who’s missing the Eastern Cape like crazy ….

    • Amanda

      Athambile, what you describe is not just in impoverished schools. My son goes to a private primary school in the northern suburbs of JHB. The school fees are astronomical. The school does not have a library, the standard of teaching is, in my opinion, generally low. The teachers are part of a clique who do not take ANY criticism, constructive or otherwise. The teaching in grade 1,2,3 was so bad that my son could barely read and write when he entered grade 4. He would ask me to read something to him rather than try and do it himself. He wouldn’t leave the school because all his friends are there. So I have had to get him up to speed – I worked with my son so that he is now able to read/write/do maths etc at the level the syllabus requires. I constantly complain but it falls on deaf ears. So I pay R3000 a month and I spend 2-3 hours a day consolidating/revising and teaching my son everything from Afrikaans to Science to Maths to Zulu. He still struggles with spelling and writing due to the shocking teaching in Foundation phase. This is his final year at the school and then I am moving him out!! If this is what is going on at some of the private schools, coupled with what you describe in schools in impoverished areas, then I don’t know what future our kids have.

    • Akanyang Merementsi

      This is not only the government’s problem, but our problem as a civil society and business.

    • Graham Johnson

      Actually, what we really need is a miracle. We need a god or other holy type who can reorganise genomes and provide an equality that is alltogether missing at the moment. Sadly, it won’t happen in our children’s lifetime. Or theirs. Or theirs.

    • The Creator

      Absolutely right, of course, but where’s the money to come from? Do we increase taxes, or plunge the country further into debt?

    • John

      Fascinating insight into our schools!

      The first Xhosa Grammar Book was published in 1905, together with the Xhosa dictionary. From the 1890s to 1940s, the education of the Xhosa was well handled by the Churches, with substantial oversight and assistance from the Cape Government. It could be claimed that the current leadership of the ANC owe their education to this heritage. (Pity the Church Schools didn’t teach our politicians any morality.)

      This handful of teachers and administrators didn’t have the internet or the cell phone. They lacked the photocopier and the motor car. (Eastern Cape District Inspector finally got a car in 1936!) If a few good men could produce such amazing results, over 100 years ago, why can’t we do it today?

      I read an account of a missionary teacher at Blythwood School (Transkei) who would teach from 08:00 to 16:00 then work long into the night preparing for the next day by candle light. The last time I drove past Blythwood, all the pupils were wandering home at 09:30 in the morning!

      Until we can get all of our teachers to have pride and commitment to the profession of teaching, our country is doomed.

    • Gail

      Hi Athambile, As a retired language teacher in Foreign Language who had the good fortune to be schooled in Grahamstown at a Govt school I hasten to and not a private one this is very interesting. I would like to ask you why these factors exist? Why do Africans not wish to teach? Why do Africans not have home language teaching? Why are there 40 children per classroom in the Foundation years? Yes we can blame this to an extent on apartheid years and lack of axxess by the then clever children to white schools, however the answer is not as simple as this.1. Education is a cumulative thing and starts in the home at birth. 2. Teaching is a calling and not a profession. 3.Teaching is not a lucrative career. 4.The population growth in the poorest sector of previously disadvantaged is probably the highest and many of these parents are themselves uneducated. This does not augur well for the hungry child in an ill-equipped classroom with 39 other children from similar backgrounds being taught by a semiskilled teacher. 5. Despite poverty many of these children’s parents have televisions which are used to entertain in small confined spaces so scholars cannot concentrate.
      Where does BEE fit in here? Which language will be most advantageous in the long run? Why are no text books available in home language? I am here because I would love to help but I am white and so ineligible to do so.

    • Foom

      I have often thought that providing incentives for “Volunteer Teachers” – that is, members of the community with skills – to help take up some of the slack in education. Perhaps something as simple as a tax break.

    • Charlie Chaplin

      Interesting article Athambile. Thanks.
      I agree with Jean. English is a global language. Given the need for efficiency all tuition should be done in this language.
      What I don’t understand is why it has been so difficult to fix. Suerly if the will was there it could be done eg:-
      1. Draw a clear line for people ie: if you perform well academically there is a road for you post-study not via BEE but via merit. Competition can work wonders.
      2. What is wrong with parents? If they understand that this is the road out of poverty for their kids you would expect them to riot if their kids are not getting an acceptable education?
      3. If teachers are not up to standard then let them come in for additional training on weekends/ evenings until they are up to std.
      4. If SADTU resists then govt / parents should take them on. We are sick and tired of hearing people’s demands instead of their commitments.
      All the above is basic and obvious. Why on earth can govt not implement this??
      On 3rd degree there was an interview with a ladt from “Blackswim??” taking about racism in SA. What amazes me is that we continue to blame apartheid instead of utter incompetence in fixing these problems.

    • Jenny

      we need a new government is what we need!

    • AfricanPride

      I am 25 years old,I went to a goverment school in my rural area of Nokaneng in mpumalanga.If i remember correctly all my classes from Grade1 to Grade6 had around 25 children maximum.

      Me and most the leaners in my class did not know how to read or writte in our mother’s lingo or English Langauge,untill Grade5.When we were taught by a teacher who made it her duty to teach us how to read and writte after hours,when all childern have gone home . I learned how to writte,read and speak in english.

    • AfricanPride

      What i am trying to say it that,It does not cost much for children to learn how to read writte or speak any langauge it takes,dedicated determined teachers who care about the profession and educating the masses.Each and every child has the ability to learn …I am staying with a 15year old boy my mother is taking care of financially school wise and him a a next door boy like to do their homeworks together,I’ve noticed that they can’t read or writte correctly and they r in Grade11.The result of our system

    • africa lover

      To Amanda
      I can give you the contact of a few government schools in Soweto which would do a much better job for a much lesser fee…. (none actually).
      Why focus on private education? Maybe this attitude among wealthy parents is also part of the problem

    • X Cepting

      Whilst I agree with the gist of your article, that rural areas are under-equiped, I do not agree with the remedy.

      We do not only need more teachers and smaller classrooms but better trained ones in the formative years.
      We do not only need libraries but to steer children back to them and away from their cellphones and pidgin English.
      We do not need Maths or Science taught in an African language, it simply makes it more difficult for African students, not easier. I have just such a problem at the moment with a student who has a street knowledge of English and therefore battles with his Math vocabulary, I gave him an English dictionary and the advise to read as much English as he can since I cannot help him further with his Math unless he understands (English) terminology better. Until these terms are logically translated into the African languages and we have technical books written in that language it is a prideful waste of these children’s future to insist they be taught in their mother tongue, except as a language subject of course. We need more confident African youngsters who will hopefully contribute to our society. They will only do so if they can converse comfortably with other scientists across the world in one of the languages common to science. Polylinguism has never hurt anyone, just ask those in Europe who, on an average, speak 3 or 4 languages.

      Above all, get rid of OBE!

    • Rory Short

      Clearly we need a political leadership that in its heart is dedicated to education. Sadly we have not got such. People use your vote wisely, this country is a democracy now.


      classroom are failing our children in SA.
      Let me spare a moment for this social related problem in the education sector.if I do not give my shot on this intriguing and thought provoking topic. yes you have to be disgruntled. I AM outrageous about this issue. you see 3rd degree has tried to expose the challenges that we facing in the country.before going so far let me stop here rhetoric,. you speak of mobile library or community ones. this has been my wish and i want to say this is not a wish list, but its bonafide imperative that any republican educated citizen from our areas we should wage a straggle for the realization of this dream. this should not be a matter of throwing in just a topic. this should be embraced by young people of the country.let me stop again and ask a question. what is a role of South African organization student if I here less of these issues, except of projecting a political guru my community I’ trying to fight for this dream. we have so much young persons who are doing library science, NYDA has gd objectives in regard of education but I must say Im loosing hope that will this agency ever outshine what umsobomvu did if there is least I doubt. can we delve more on this, so we can take this to the minister of lower level education. I’m ready for this war.


      part two. You see as you pointed out that you not shouting. I’M a proud young emerging politician, issues of this nature needs not too much see what I contribute in your article is that all our headless politicians like a chicken are lacking the direction of what they are saying. I wonder why as South Africans when we cry of job losses the only people we look at its whites whom we think they must create jobs why not us. we calling for billions to injected in the NYDA then what for we should question these things. I’m very outrageous on this issue.we are all populated to political structures with little to offer, simple because they themselves are not educated. why we not seeing young leaders of the ANCYL in the universities studying as part-time students. have they finished acquiring knowledge for them to stand a chance of leading tomorrow better than yester leaders. when are we going to take a back seat a watch our work in progress if we not starting today doing what will ascertain us future. our leaders climb into leadership without sight.oh! damn I curse those that live a completely different life because my knowledge is that as a young emerging politician my role models are all those freedom fighter whom I believe they are learned so as as avid should emulate everything that they did b4 me so as to be proud of my achievement one day.

    • MLH

      At risk of upsetting you all:
      I have noticed that of all the black South Africans with whom I have worked over many years, the brightest and most likely to succeed have always been youngsters whose parents received and benefitted from education; the children of teachers or professionals.
      Those parents expect much of their children: as much or more than they themselves achieved!
      The children have been open to correction and able to learn from any mistakes they’ve made, seeing instruction and advice not as criticism, but as help; exactly what it is!

      What that tells me, is that if we don’t do something radical to improve the schooling and discipline of those still in schooling now, we risk another few generations of non-achievers.

    • Gail

      I still believe that a love of learning has to be instilled in the home itself and facilitated there. Technology has a role to play but first the child needs to learn to listen to books being read so that they develop a desire to read. Story telling is vital to develop the young mind in those first 6 years before they attend school. I have a son who speaks 7 languages including Arabic and Mandarin and another who speaks 3. The 3rd son did not learn to read until the age of 8 because of developmental problems however because of our approach to his problems which was to persevere with the reading and to focus on his selfesteem to the exclusion of academic achievement he is highly thought of and able to support me and himself despite having only Grade 9 after 12 years at school. He is a prolific reader of good literature as are both my other boys. We, as parents set the example. I believe that the approach should be made through adult literacy classes for those who forfeited their own education during the apartheid years. I taught my housekeeper to read and speak English by giving her a multilingual Dictionary and a radio and having her listen to English only while I was at work. I encouraged her to read any literature around my home – magazines books etc. It is humiliating for her that she can not help her son with his homework in other areas.

    • Gail

      Teachers are born not taught. I taught in a small private school on a parttime basis. I had children in Grade 6 who could neither write nor read and this was a predominantly white school. I spent hours of my own time writing the work out in faint pencil with indications of where the letter should start and end. I could not do it for all my students however as there is a limit to the time one has. I used music to create atmosphere for poetry. I hammed it up in Macbeth and provided text books with modern English next to Shakespearian English so that they could understand what I was emoting. I had hyperactive children begging to join my class to listen to Macbeth! I did this for the princely sum of R1200 per month because I worked only two days a week. Language is key to developing thought but parents complain that there is too much reading and homework. PARENTS themselves do not read. It starts from the moment they come home as babies as an enjoyable family occupation preferably before bed. My eldest son was able to read The Star when he was in Grade 1 flawlessly. tumultuous applause was something he could sound out in Grade 1 while I cooked supper. Television was a teaching tool in our home where we examined and dissected programs/ads and language and media as a tool and a craft. TV’s need electricity, books can be read by lamplight.

    • ZB

      There are some subjects for which it will be unwise to teach them in an African mother tongue like Zulu, Xhosa, etc… one such subject is Mathematics

      Before we argue a lot – read the book “Outliers – the story of success” by Malcolm Gladwell

    • obi

      Interesting article. But I don’t think teaching in african languages is the answer. Lot’s of people are educated in second languages and still excel. Given the fact that english is a global language and competence in english often determines/defines one’s chances of success, it is probably a good idea to educate children in english. The problems are that the standards of education at those schools are poor, the schools are poorly resourced, students are from poor families and may have competing interests, teachers are poorly paid and are unmotivated, etc etc etc. I think we should focus on solving these problems.

    • Amanda

      @africalover – you missed the point of what I was trying to say. I was providing a view of the other side of the coin as such. Everyone moans about the state of govt. schools and people think that private is the way to go. What I was trying to say is that the private schools are often not much better. Just to set you straight as well – I am far from being a ‘wealthy’ parent. I am divorced with a husband who lives overseas and has never contributed a cent to my son’s upbringing or education. In order to send my son to a ‘private’ school, I have made great sacrifices so be careful about making assumptions because you think I am wealthy. If wanting the very, very best for my boy and trying to ensure that he gets the best start in life, makes me part of the ‘problem’ as you say then I have to question your educational background. Because any intelligent person can see that parents who are prepared to take an active role in their children’s education and ensure their children get the best foundation in life that they can afford, are, in my opinion, part of the solution and NEVER part of the problem. Unpack the logic of your statement and don’t make assumptions about others based on your own prejudice. Attitudes like yours are part of the wider problems in SA.

    • X Cepting

      @ERIC – I totally agree with you. I am also fed-up with the excuses from an education department that refuses to admit that the system is not working. If, as a young politician, you are ready to fight this war, and as long as the only weapon we use is knowledge, then I am with you. The only way to fight ignorance is teaching knowledge. How about adopting the slogan “Education Now!”? In this way we will make those proud who came before us and gave up education to fight for liberty. I do not have much time, having a 12 hour day but am helping any student willing to learn, for free. If each of us who are educated do that, we can perhaps save the current generation who will be lost otherwise. Unfortunately, I suspect the education department will then get the credit and keep the expensive disaster that is OBE. Someone has to change their minds about that. It worked nowhere else in the world, why would it work here?

    • X Cepting

      @MLH – You are not at all wrong, I have noticed the same thing. Those children that grown up in rural areas or war-torn countries and who, despite their disadvantaged background, still grow up to excel, without fail, I’ve discovered had small libraries or knowledgable parents at home.

      @Gail – I have the same habit of reading before bed and taught my daughter that, it does make sense.

      For those who are religious and prefer reading their scripture before bed, it is a perfect time to also brush up on their English. Looking up the words that isn’t understood in a dictionary broadens the vocabulary and enhance the understanding of the scriptures.

    • X Cepting

      @obi – Agreed, except for the lack of resources. Many successful people were once taught with one textbook (for the teacher), a blackboard, chalk and slates and chalk for the kids. Blaming resources is like blaming your thinking skills on the model of computer you use. The other translation of OBE is OBfuscation Education.

    • Gail

      I taught amongst others on African youth from Grades 6 – 8. Since he was the only African chld in the school there were always going to be problems arising from various sources. His mother was an ANC member, there did not appear to be a father although there was an erudite elder brother I was told working in Johannesburg. This youth was respectful always towards me as much as any kids are today in a classroom, however he was not an academic and I think also in his brother’s shadow. His whole attitude seemed to be that it didn’t really matter how good an education he was offered because now that Africans ruled it was payback time and he would get a good job regardless of his education. He also came up with the ridiculous notion that if he committed a crime his parent would do the time! He wasn’t stupid by any means however he was lazy as were other kids with silver spoons. I had a good relationship with his mother and because of racial issues from a teacher at the school I suggested he be placed in a bigger private school where there might be African peers so that he wouldn’t feel it incumbent on him to ingratiate himself with children both younger and older than himself. Adolescence is a tough time and he needed to be among more children his own age. Sadly he failed the year at the bigger private school.

    • Gail

      Teachers need to be incentivised with bursaries which come with a clause that has them use their degree in an underprivileged school for the period for which they received the degree. I seem to recall this was done in my day. Teachers were also encouraged to constantly upgrade their skills while in service through government assistance. The bottom line though is that they must love to teach at that foundational level and this becomes extremely difficult when there is one teacher for 40 children (or more). As a teacher I provided material for may students out of my measly salary because I wanted to enthuse them with a love of learning – pass the torch as it were. One has to realise though that not every child is an academic and provide alternatives for those who are gifted in a different direction as well as respect their skill as equal to that of the academic child. It is always easier to teach a child by focussing on what they can do rather than what they can’t do and constantly criticising them. No child is an island nor are adults. We all need each other to be validated and grow a sense of self worth. My son with the learning disability was given that sense of self worth through finding other children who were weak in soe area and boosting their confidence through acceptance that they were smarter in other areas which were socially acceptable and vital to society.

    • niki kunene

      There’s quite a bit or research being done internationally on native language education vs. 2nd language education. In one study they found that kids being asked to solve a math problem in their native tongue peformed sigificantly better that when asked to solve the same problem in their 2nd language. (You’ll find these studies via a google search)

      As someone who has been educated in a second language without any discussion of the challenges this created I find these studies and results very interesting. If you look at the Chinese, Japanese and Germans, all of whom have a vested interest in speaking English, none of them (so far anyway) have imposed English as the language of instruction. I don’t have to discuss these countries’ success rates. What they do do though is teach English as a second language.

      The challenge is, when you use a 2nd language as the language of instruction you need the learner to actually THINK in the 2nd language to be successful (this is not something anyone who is not proficient in at least two languages can readily understand). 2nd language mastery requires a high degree of immersion. What happens to children who go to schools where the teachers aren’t truly proficient and in homes where only the mother tongue is spoken?

      My point is, it’s not a foregone conclusion that Math/Physics ought to be taught in English. Likewise, ask why are the Afrikaans learners were the better performers?

    • Mrs H

      Just remember that good teachers can teach as well under a tree as they do in the classroom, delapidated or not. The education of the child is directly proportional to the calibre of the teacher. Pay them, respect them, and they will appear.