By Lehlohonolo Mofokeng

Here is a reality many of us do not want to talk about: our basic education encourages surface learning than deep learning. One of the reasons I encourage my learners to enter for Accounting Olympiads is to show them that our content is weak; by consequence, disadvantages them when they enrol at a good university. For instance, in the SAIPA Olympiad, it was the first time they knew of the Steinhoff vs Viceroy saga. I still maintain: it is easy to pass in South Africa than to fail. In fact, a learner has to work diligently to fail than to pass. This, of course, is not to discount hours that some of our learners put in to do well. Unfortunately as teachers we are forced to encourage this surface learning by going through all past papers so as to drill our learners for exams because failure to do this will render you incompetent etc. This is a systemic rot that has crippled our system and invariably the economy.

As a township school education addict, my focus has always been on challenging my learners to think “beyond the scope of the textbook”, as a former UFS student leader would say. My emphasis is on the ‘why’ and ‘how’ questions. Why do we do what we do? How do we apply what we learn in Economics to transform the makeup of the economy? In Business Studies, for instance, it is easy to remember Michael Porter’s 5 forces model but how to apply it in your life is totally a different story. What is the honour of getting Accounting distinctions when you can’t even draw up a personal budget for your family or self? What is the honour of doing well in Life Sciences when you cannot advise your parents on the right diet to take when they suffer from diabetes? This should be the focus of our curriculum, forcing learners to apply the content. I am not going to get into how our learners fare in international benchmark tests, the value of which, sadly, our minister relegated to nothing when she announced the matric results.

On the backdrop of this, what should parents do to atone for below average standards in our basic education?
Firstly, encourage your kids to engage with their curriculum content broadly. This you do by buying her credible reading materials that will expose her novel debates on, for instance, land redistribution. Secondly, make your home a learning home. Do not preach academic excellence when all you do is watch soapie after soapie. Let her see your love for knowledge by buying books that will empower you.
Thirdly, reward nothing but holistic excellence. Congratulate him when he has done well in sports as you’d when he has done well in his academics. Always challenge her to seek ways she can apply what she learns in class in her own life.

Our country will begin to become an equal in the increasingly competitive world once we start to realise that quality education does not start in Grade 12 but from the moment a child is born.

Lehlohonolo Mofokeng is co-author of the book, Your First Year Of Varsity – A Survival Guide For University And College.


  • Mandela Rhodes Scholars who feature on this page are all recipients of The Mandela Rhodes Scholarship, awarded by The Mandela Rhodes Foundation, and are members of The Mandela Rhodes Community. The Mandela Rhodes Community was started by recipients of the scholarship, and is a growing network of young African leaders in different sectors. The Mandela Rhodes Community is comprised of students and professionals from various backgrounds, fields of study and areas of interest. Their commonality is the set of guiding principles instilled through The Mandela Rhodes Scholarship program: education, leadership, reconciliation, and social entrepreneurship. All members of The Mandela Rhodes Community have displayed some form of involvement in each of these domains. The Community has the purpose of mobilising its members and partners to collaborate in establishing a growing network of engaged and active leaders through dialogue and project support [The Mandela Rhodes Scholarship is open to all African students and allows for postgraduate studies at any institution in South Africa. See The Mandela Rhodes Foundation for further details.]


Mandela Rhodes Scholars

Mandela Rhodes Scholars who feature on this page are all recipients of The Mandela Rhodes Scholarship, awarded by The Mandela Rhodes Foundation, and are members...

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