By Robyn Clark
In March 2012, the ANC released a series of documents intended to stimulate discussion around what the ANC has achieved over the last 18 years in South Africa, and what it should further achieve in the future. The aim of the documents is to encourage discussions around the policy process, which will hopefully help with planning and governance in the country in the upcoming years.
After looking particularly at the basic education section of the health and education policy discussion document (PDF), I found that while there were some good ideas, there were many unreachable ideals. Unfortunately, the most glaringly obvious feature of the document was what was not said.
Overall, this document does show that some progress has been made in the South African education system over the last 16 years. All children in South Africa are entitled to an education. However, can this be deemed an achievement considering the recent cases where the department of education has been taken to court for non-delivery of education (e.g. non-delivery of textbooks in Limpopo and the Eastern Cape education crisis)?
There were some inconsistencies in the document which stood out for me.
The document states: “Government set itself a target of ensuring that 60% of grade 3, 6 and 9 learners must function at “acceptable levels” in literacy and numeracy in 2014.” I find this statement vague and sad. There is no definition of “acceptable levels” in this document. The current “acceptable level” of passing in matric is 30%. This statement tells us that we can happily accept 40% of our children attaining less than a 30% achievement level. Should we be happy that our government is setting such poor standards for itself, and for our learners? Standards like these enforce mediocrity and complacency as praiseworthy characteristics.
A second statement that I took issue with is: “The ANC advocates the rational use of ICT in our schools, FET colleges, universities, clinics, hospitals, and other facilities as this is demanded of us during this computer or digital age.” Brilliant! The ANC want us to use technology in schools, but has unfortunately not stated how this should happen. In many cases, the only computers a school has are either stolen or locked away to ensure that they are not. In many schools, the closest learners come to a piece of technology is using a cellphone. The National Association of School Governing Bodies (NASGB) recently announced that they would like to see a complete ban of cellphones in all schools in South Africa. There are successful ways in which cellphones could be used as a tool for learning; the majority of today’s cellphones have internet access and users/students can download MXit, where textbooks and online tutors are freely available. I believe that the NASGB is only calling for this ban because there is little direction on using cellphones in the classroom as a learning tool.
A third statement in the document reads: “The new curriculum must be accompanied with skills development of teachers.” Two personal experiences dictate my response to this statement. The first is that I have personally given up free time to attend a CAPS training session which was held by the department of education. The training session may have been useful – if I were not able to read. The second is my secondary experiences around Sadtu. Many of the learners in my class catch a taxi to school, and I heard stories of intimidation and anger during the strike. Many Sadtu members do not agree to being trained outside of official school hours. This is a challenge because if teachers are trained within school time, learners lose out. Skills development and professional development of teachers are vital, yet seem like an unobtainable ideal in this situation. Very few teachers have taken their professional development into their own hands.
Policy vs action
As a conclusion to the document, a very sweeping statement leads readers to believe that everything is absolutely fine in the education (and health) system in South Africa: “The education and health sectors are satisfied with the progress being made in the implementation of resolutions, policies and programs in the ANC government.”
The document goes on to state that new policies are still needed for further progress, but gives only the indication that yet another sub-committee will be formed to deal with this resolution.
I am not saying that this document is completely void of sense or progressive ideas, but ideas and policies are worth nothing if there is no equivalent action in the places that need it most. These ideas should not be vague, overarching or bureaucratic; they should provide real and tangible solutions to the problems that we face in delivering quality education to learners from all areas in South Africa.
The document does not deal conclusively with the following important issues:
SADTU is a major role player in South African Education and has become a bully.
• Common problems in South Africa
There is no mention of dealing with many common problems in South African communities such as child-headed
households, HIV and poor eyesight.
• Learners walking long distances to school
Many learners wake up before 5am, and get home after dark. A transport system needs to be set into place.
• Performance requirements for teachers and principals
This may curb teacher and management absenteeism in schools. There is a vague mention of a strategy for
improving accountability, but this seems to be in its infancy. Eighteen years into democracy, this strategy
should have been fully developed.
• Sanitation and access to water in schools
The document mentions rebuilding “mud hut schools” but there is no mention of providing proper sanitation to
many of the schools which do not have this basic need.
• School improvement plans
Many schools need a complete overhaul. This is where a school improvement plan would work to set out steps for
• Parental involvement
There is no mention of parental involvement. Parental involvement, in many cases, needs to be encouraged, as
this is a novel practice to many.
Would it be insensitive of me to contrast today’s education system with the one that precipitated the events of June 16 1976? Are we begging for another disaster to force the government to realise that our education system is still disadvantaging the youth of today? In 1976, students protested against the disastrous yet well implemented policy of learning in Afrikaans. Today, there are some great policies and ideals which are in the best interests of learners, but poor implementation and leadership in the education sphere means that less learning is taking place than is potentially possible.
Education is arguably one of the most essential foundations upon which society is built. Resolve to fix education, get it right, and many other pieces of the South African conundrum will fall into place. Change is a long and arduous process, and we still have a long way to go before we can say that we have a fully functioning education system.
Robyn Clark teaches high school mathematics and mathematical literacy at Sekolo sa Borokgo, a small independent school in Randburg, Johannesburg. She is passionate about education in South Africa and is especially interested in the accessibility of Maths education. She is currently studying towards her MSc in mathematics education at the University of Witwatersrand. Follow her on Twitter: @clarkformaths