Education How?

politics ngos teaching learning
Wednesday, 18 September, 2013 - 10:27

South Africa is progressing in addressing the challenges relating to its education system, however, there is still a long way to go in realising quality education

When looking at the history of education in South Africa (SA), previously disadvantaged people were discriminated against because of their skin colour. This resulted in poor education which was candy-coated in the form of Bantu education. In those unjust times the previously disadvantaged people were prohibited from gaining access to decent schooling systems by the apartheid regime and deprived of basic school resources. Yet even under these circumstances, they were resilient and prevailed. After the fall of the apartheid, people were eager to see the radical change in the education system that would grant citizens access to decent and equal education.
Unfortunately, freedom and democracy have not guaranteed access to decent education for South African children. Throughout the years, education woes in SA have escalated and currently the Department of Basic Education sits with the daunting task of having to work through the problems of the education system in this country. For starters, the basic delivery of school materials such as textbooks to schools has been outright appalling. It is not just the Limpopo Province that is plagued with the ‘textbook scandal’, other provinces like the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal have also delayed children’s learning through their lack of urgency in delivering textbooks to schools. While I was doing my research in the rural area of Mqele in the Eastern Cape, I found that pupils in a nearby primary school did not have access to libraries and the teachers were the only ones in classroom with a textbook. Yet these children are still expected to do their school projects and write tests without proper learning materials. There needs to be a system in place to hold officials responsible for delivering school materials accountable. It is a grave injustice for school children to suffer for their incompetence.
Also, the issues concerning the lack of basic infrastructure and maintenance in schools is like a rock tied around not only the pupils’ neck but the teachers as well. Children have to walk miles and miles - sometimes barefoot - to go to school and sit under a tree to learn. Some schools have leaking roofs, some do not have water or proper sanitation while others have problems that are beyond this article to describe. These pupils are then expected to learn and excel under these harsh conditions.
To make matters worse, school children endure all these conditions, only to be taught by under-qualified teachers that have Junior Certificates. While I do not dispute that some have contributed immensely to the South African education system, it is still not enough. It can also not be disputed that it puts learners at a disadvantage. If SA wants children to have quality education the need for qualified teachers is imperative. We cannot expect a teacher with a Junior Certificate who did not finish high school to go and teach high school learners. Quality education in the form of qualified teachers should not be substituted by experience.  The onus is on the Department of Basic Education to ensure that qualified teachers are assigned to relevant posts. Under the apartheid regime, it was ‘logical’ to have unqualified teachers teaching black children because Bantu education had to maintain the status quo that ensured white supremacy and black inferiority. It does not make sense today. Trade unions also need to play a major role in encouraging their members to acquire skills required to do their job efficiently. This will translate into placing more emphasis on the learner’s rights to access quality education.
It amazes me that today, at a time where South Africans have gained their freedom and are able to determine their own future, without being prejudiced by the colour of their skin, they still choose to ignore the one thing that can empower and better people's circumstances - education. The low quality of education in SA cannot be linked to shortage of resources, but in most cases has a lot to do with the lack of capacity by the relevant departments to translate the allocated budgets into educational priorities.
The South African education system has long been a cause for concern. Stories of school children not receiving their textbooks and children learning under trees is unacceptable, almost 20 years into democracy. It is a tragedy that SA’s overall education system is rated 133rd out of 142 countries by the World Economic Forum.
Fixing the challenges facing our education system should start with taking small steps like implementing the Norms and Standards Act, and thereafter taking action towards applying change. However, the reality is that government cannot do this alone. It needs to start taking the concerns brought forward by civil society seriously further by working in partnership with NGOs and other stakeholders. This is because the former and the latter are working towards the same goal – of providing decent education.
In addition, the National Education Collaboration, which brings together parent bodies, NGOs, trade unions and community leaders with the aim of improving the quality of education, is a step in the right direction. As citizens, we should also support NGOs’ efforts aimed at addressing challenges in education. Their fight is our fight. South Africans have a right to education and it is government’s duty to honour this right, especially since it was a privilege during apartheid.
- Lusisipo Piyose is a volunteer at SANGONeT. She holds a Bachelors of Arts in Media Studies and International Relations, as well as Honours Degree in Media Studies from University of the Witwatersrand.

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