Funny thing I must say to discover that the minister of basic education is “disappointed at the matric results”. Besides sucking up to Malema during the election campaign by publicly and irresponsibly saying that matric “is not that important” she set a bad example early last year by abandoning a crucial meeting of the council of educators meant to discuss education strategies and dashed off to Bloemfontein to attend court proceedings of Jacob Zuma. As if that is not enough when she was inexplicably appointed to be the minister of basic education, she prioritised the font and size of the very matric certificate that she said was not so important. A stunt designed to make sure that Juju does not feel too bad about obtaining a G in woodwork but a stunt at the expense of the 200 000 students who might have taken her at her words and went on to fail this “not so important” milestone of their education career. In the hype of a gushing sadness she may pretend to be feeling about this massive indicator of our failing education system, I thought the public needs to be reminded of this cavalier attitude towards her work. It is well and good to complain about poor leadership in schools, but then the public must be entitled to ask the question — what sort of leader is at the helm of our own education system and what kind of example does she set to teachers and learners?
But of course she is not the teacher — isn’t she? Well some may argue that as chief educator she has to lead by example in an area of our social life that has to do with shaping young minds for the future. I am not only talking about ensuring that her budget vote as minister is not full of grammatical errors as pointed out by a newspaper in July last year, I am also talking about an ability to apply herself to the challenges facing our education today, through demonstrable moral and visionary leadership, something that is in short supply across the political spectrum these days. Instead of spending time calling political opponents dogs, she should be giving teachers a sense of the values that underpin their commitment to shaping young minds for their future and the future of our country.
A government spokesperson, Sandile Memela, jumped into the matric analysis fray in a newspaper article last week lambasting black students for being “drunks and partygoers” as a profound attempt to explain the dismal performance in matric especially in the black community where too few distinctions were recorded this year. Not a word about the shambolic leadership at the very top of our education system. This hypocritical approach to the deep-seated problems that are exacerbated by poor leadership must be rejected outright. What about the teachers who come to school drunk? What about the governing bodies that don’t meet to deliberate on the challenges facing educators and learners? What about the provincial government departments that don’t deliver books on time and that cut off budgets to schools because they are receiving private-sector funding and what about the ANC-aligned Sadtu that strikes at the slightest provocation and leave schoolkids unattended for days?
We need to face up to the fact that the matric results are the clearest indication yet that education is being seriously mismanaged in our country. While I claim no expertise in education I invite you dear reader to examine with me only three success indicators and how these are being approached by the government to see that education is in a state of deep crisis, hopefully this can also show where solutions lie.
1. Literacy and numeracyIn a recent South African Institute of Race Relations report we are told that a shocking 79% of our schools do not have libraries. This represents 19 900 schools out of about 25 000 schools that have been assessed. Three thousand schools that do have some kind of a library have no books in those libraries. Only 1 818 libraries are fully stocked. Go figure. How on earth can we build a culture of reading and appreciation for education with this horrendous under-resourcing over such a basic education tool? Is this tragic status quo even in the list of priorities for the minister — at least not according to his ungrammatical budget vote of 2009. What is shocking about the seed that this anomaly plants is how it sips up to university level where undergraduate students — products of this “miseducation” — are then told to regurgitate lecture notes and prescribed material, instead of the trouble of suddenly having to use a strange concept called a library.
2. The big question of how to teach and who is teaching our children
Instead of being more concerned about the look and feel of the matric certificate, Motshekga should really have been asking harder questions about the implementation of the outcomes-based education. Many teachers were illiterate themselves about how to implement this system that in its defence the minister stated on public radio that “OBE is a principle” not a system — dismissing the likes of Ramphele Mamphele as being alarmists. We now know that a few months ago she was the one writing the death certificate of the same OBE — so much for vision and leadership. Anyway this education policy confusion has so far produced what Dr Eloff, head of Higher Education South Africa, calls functionally illiterate matriculants. I suppose that the paragraph in President Zuma’s speech boasting about how tough this year’s matric was, was drafted by the minister. We have to assume that these tough papers therefore show us that the system needs an overhaul so that you don’t have kids only being able to answer 5% of the paper in what is supposed to be their last year of schooling. Then there is the question of underqualified teachers. According to the same report cited above, some staggering 30 000 teachers in our system of education are underqualified. I am not even going to talk about science teachers who can hardly conduct experiments in the face of thousands of absent or unstocked laboratories in our schools. All of these factors point to a national emergency in the proper resourcing of education.
3. The question of a well-rounded student
What kind of student can be produced under a tree? What kind of student can be produced surrounded by collapsing mud infrastructure? What justification can there be that more than 10% of our schools across the country do not have access to water and electricity? According to the report some 1 800 schools do not have toilet facilities at all and of those that have about 8 500 depend on pit lavatories. I am not even going to talk about the poor recreational facilities and classrooms with no windows and doors, stolen by people who live in the communities close to these already collapsing schools. My heart just sinks when I think of civil servants who steal food scheme money. Where is the dignity in all this — can we really be surprised if almost half of all matriculants don’t make it at all?
To conclude, these three areas of investment in education is where government resources ought to be directed instead of bloating government by a billion rand and splashing money on luxury cars. I am not saying, dear reader, that there is no plan, I am just expressing my pain when I see a minister of basic education who thinks that a nicer matric certificate or the lowering of a distinction percentage is the way to go in the face of this ill-treatment of our children … my pain grew when I saw her walking into Parliament late, just when the president was answering questions about this tragic situation. She now has the temerity at the end of the year to be “disappointed” at the outcomes of her own deeds. It is a shame.