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By Busani Ngcaweni

All the learners who passed their grade 12 examinations in 2014 should be applauded without reservation. The scores who were unsuccessful should be encouraged by Confucius who, centuries before the birth of Christ, correctly pointed out that “our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising each time we fall”. In this regard as well as in the spirit of entrenching a genuinely caring society, the department of basic education, must be applauded for providing a second chance to learners who wish to repeat their grade 12 in 2015. Without claiming that education is a panacea, we all know too well that it would be dishonest and irresponsible to suggest that a country like South Africa with high levels of unemployment, poverty, and inequality can reverse centuries of underdevelopment without education and the skilling of its youth occupying the heart of its developmental agenda.

The nature of schooling in South Africa has changed positively and is able to cater for a bigger number of learners than before. The system caters for 12.4 million learners in 25 826 schools. Over the years the system has rapidly expanded and government has intervened through different initiatives to increase enrolment while also improving the quality. These initiatives include, but are not limited to, the introduction of the annual national assessments, workbooks, school nutrition programme, investment in grade R and early childhood development and no-fee schools. The no-fee schools cater for 8.7 million learners representing the majority of learners within the system. These investments have seen the system expand and with more learners in the primary school phase taking part in the school system compared to the secondary school phase.

The education, skilling, and employment of South Africa’s youth is an incredibly important matter for it to be confined to an annual January ritual or event which commences when the grade 12 results are announced. Many South Africans, including the courageous youth of 1976, lost their lives in order to free the potential that quality education bears in building a prosperous society. In respecting those who sacrificed their lives for South Africa’s hard-worn freedoms, and in order to build a country that can thrive in a global economy, which is increasingly knowledge-based, achieving excellence in education should become part of our national, daily discourse.

The knowledge economies of the 21st century require greater attention on the e-skilling of its population, innovation, and entrepreneurship. If the discussion on the curricula and monitoring of the performance of our education hibernates throughout the year and is only resurrected in the first week of the new year, South Africa risks delaying both the cultural and economic renaissance it so desperately needs to create social and economic prosperity for all its people. In announcing the 2014 matric results, the minister of basic education reminded all of us of the simple truth that, “preparations for grade 12 start in grade R and therefore there is no grade less important than the other”. It should be added that even beyond matric, as responsible and patriotic citizens, we should be keenly interested in the provision of quality education to our youth.

The success of the education system is dependent on all of us. It is a societal responsibility requiring families, communities, academia, and NGOs to work in partnership with government to ensure that the enormous financial resources that are invested in it yield the desired results. Parents must not absolve their responsibility of instilling discipline in their children and playing a part in the education of their children. Parents ought to participate in the life of the school through the activities of the empowered and legislated school governing bodies. Besides parents and motivated and hardworking learners, teachers and school management are the main players in the success of the education system. As a country, we need to continue with teacher development, developing management skills of principals and subject (department) heads.

While many opinions have been offered on the singular, if not narrow, focus on the pass rate, we should also express gratitude to many of our journalists who highlight unique, moving, and heart-warming stories of learners and schools who achieved impressive results against such odds as deprivation, the scourge of drugs, and lack of resources.

We have learned of Reginald Champala of Harry Gwala Comprehensive in Daveyton who scored seven distinctions in Xitsonga, English, maths, life sciences, life orientation, geography and physical science. He obtained 100% in geography, life sciences and physical science. His mother, who is unemployed, confirmed that Reginald survived on the child-support grant he receives from the state. Thato Ramagogodi from the North West also showed the triumph of the human spirit against adversity. She depended on her mother’s meagre monthly income of R2 500, lived 57km from home, yet obtained seven distinctions. In Thohoyandou, Limpopo, Mbilwi Secondary School produced more bachelor’s passes than any other school in the province. The school has held this record for more than 10 years, and its principal attributes the success of his school to team work, hard work and dedication.

With many of these inspiring anecdotes and testimonies, it would be naive for us as a country to ignore the evidence that the picture of the matric results still reflects deep-seated inequalities in the education system. The statistics should not hide the class character of the country. The SACP in the Eastern Cape has a point in insisting that while much progress has been made in expanding access to education, the playing fields in rural, township, and urban schools have not been levelled. The party cautions us to “look unto the matric results beyond numbers and percentages and appreciate that we are speaking of people from different social backgrounds … the issue of matric results is not a beauty contest of statistics and numbers but a sensitive issue of lives of young people with ambitions and the kind of future we wish to build”.

As the ANC leads the country in the commemoration of 60 years of its blueprint of freedom, the Freedom Charter, we are well-poised to draw inspiration from the freedom volunteers of the 1950s, amadelakufa, who famously declared a vision for an equal, non-racial, non-sexist society. In 2015 and beyond, we have the opportunity to use our education system to give birth to a new society that is at peace with itself and the world. It is this education system that will inspire all South Africans to fully identify with the continent of Africa and all its people.

In the clause of the Freedom Charter, “The Doors of Learning and Culture Shall Be Opened”, it is stated that, “The aim of education shall be to teach the youth to love their people and their culture, to honour human brotherhood, liberty and peace”. The father of African humanism, the late Es’kia
Mphahlele, led a discussion on this clause. In a transcript recorded by the police during the adoption of the Freedom Charter in Kliptown, this remarkable teacher and writer, saw education and culture as a potent, humane force that could forge the desired united, prosperous South African nation. In remembering Mphahlele and the selfless freedom delegates that were in Kliptown on June 25 and 26, 1955, let us all commit ourselves to make our education system work for our country and the continent of Africa.

We must pull up our sleeves and get involved in this enterprise of building an educated, skilled, and prosperous nation.

Busani Ngcaweni is the editor of the book Liberation Diaries: Reflections on 20 Years of Democracy. (Jacana Media.)

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