Thabang Motsohi
Thabang Motsohi

Focus attention where it matters in education

There are three critical stakeholder components that must be managed optimally in order to deliver the best education outcomes. The state has a constitutional responsibility and mandate to provide quality school infrastructure and teaching resources. The School Governing Bodies and state must ensure that quality teachers are employed to impart knowledge to learners and manage the schools well. Parents must provide support to learners and the schools to optimise the learning environment. When all these components respond optimally, the desired outcomes are normally achieved.

How then do we explain the reality that schools in Quantiles 4 and 5 perform reasonably well in terms of how these three stakeholder components function and interact to achieve expected outcomes, but those in Quantiles 1, 2 and 3 perform so dismally and yet are used by over 60% of the learners who also happen to come from poor communities?

The challenge has its origins in the apartheid system where racial policies were designed to ensure that black people must not attain the levels of education beyond their expected role as suppliers of cheap labour to industry. Since transition to democracy and a constitutional system premised on fundamental human rights, provision of quality education for all has been the dominant theme. Our strategic intent and focus required that all efforts should have been directed at understanding key drivers and constraints to attaining quality education and planning accordingly to achieve these objectives.

A deeper look at each of the stakeholder components may assist to understand and identify fault lines.Parents have forever been understood to play a very critical and supportive role in achieving good education outcomes. Active parent’s participation in sport activities, fundraising and learner support is a critical component and feature of successful schools.

The reality of our situation is that a very large number of children belonging to parents who could afford fees charged by former Model C and private schools have migrated to these schools. The participation of these parents is now adding more value to these schools and has negatively impacted parent’s participation in Quantiles 1, 2 and 3 schools especially in townships. Active parent participation is critical to ensuring that the SGBs work hard to achieve an optimum learning environment.

Research has demonstrated for quite some time now that investing more in terms of quality resources at the foundation levels will ensure better outcomes at higher grades. We knew this at the onset of the transition period but we did very little to ensure that better qualified teachers are employed at the foundation level and that quality school infrastructure and teaching materials and support are made available on an urgent basis.

The role of SADTU in obstructing all efforts at introducing performance related pay and incentives has contributed to the low quality of teachers and leadership in poor performing schools. Education administration is the responsibility of the department of basic education but in many instances SADTU plays a decisive role in decision making. A critical example is where under-qualified principals are deployed at the insistence of SADTU on payment of a fee ranging between R30 000 and R40 000.

An education system has different strata and dimensions. No single performance metric will be able to provide a comprehensive understanding of how the system works and where the fault-lines are. A critical understanding of the efficiency of any system involves measuring changes that occur to any inputs while in the system and quality of the outcomes. For example, the efficiency of a water reticulation and distribution system in any residential area involves measuring supply output at the main in-let meter into the distribution network, the consumption by house-holds and a comparison of the two to understand if there is any loss due to leakages in the system. A vital metric is the loss due to leakages because this comprises loss of a vital resource. Successful municipalities pay particular attention to this measure.

The Department of Basic Education has identified a number of vital and successful interventions that are aimed at improving the quality of our education since the beginning of the transition. We see results in the sharp rise in access and retention. An area of great need is to improve the quality of leadership and teaching in poor performing schools on a massive scale. This ironically will mean taking on SADTU! Poor performing schools play a significant role in the high drop-out rate in grades 10 and 11. Parents need to understand the key drivers of this negative outcome every year when the final matric results are announced. High drop-out rates have a direct economic impact in terms of poor utilisation of resources. Measuring this defect will ensure that we focus our attention and efforts at points in the system that really matter.

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