Mmusi Maimane | Ten steps to fix SA’s education system for future generations | News24

Our nation’s toughest challenges of unemployment, poverty and inequality cannot be addressed without dealing with the elephant in the room – the dismal state of our education system, writes Mmusi Maimane. 

In South Africa today, two out of 10 learners drop out of school after Grade 3, four out of 10 after Grade 9, six out of 10 after Grade 10 and more than seven out of 10 after Grade 11. This statistic alone illustrates the rank failure of our basic education system and the desperate need for reform. 

The problem at hand was created during our country’s painful past, via the vehicle of Bantu Education. But the problem at hand is sustained by our country’s current approach. With an annual cheque of more than R280 billion, the Basic Education Department (DBE) boasts one of the largest line items in the budget. 

Despite this, the quality of education afforded to the vast majority of our children is substandard. Lack of resources and infrastructure, low standards, pit toilets, crowded classrooms, unaccountable teachers – we rightly expect much more progress than we’ve witnessed over the past 28 years.

Motshekga’s performance 

Angie Motshekga was appointed to the position of Minister of Basic Education in 2009. It has been close-on 13 years since she took over a department that oversees the education of over 12 million young South Africans. Motshekga has failed to deliver quality education that is market relevant and globally competitive as we lose half of every learner cohort that enters the school system by the end of the 12-year schooling period. 

In addition to high numbers of learner dropouts, the remaining students have not been served well by the system. The performance of Minister Motshekga has been disastrous. The DBE’s own Diagnostics Report shows that the overwhelming majority of students who take crucial subjects in matric attain less than 50% in those subjects.

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The Report’s data shows that over the past six-year period (2015–2020), a concerningly small percentage of students who wrote the matric exams achieved 50% or higher in crucial subjects. These are: Mathematics (21.3%); Physical Science (27.1%); Accounting (28.8%); Life Sciences (29.6%); Economics (20.7%) and Business Studies (28.4). Data for 2021 has yet to be released by the DBE. 

Eight out of every 10 children in South Africa cannot read for meaning by the age of 10. According to the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS), 78% of Grade 4 learners in South Africa cannot read for meaning.

These results affect the market – they affect the unemployment crisis. It is a common cause that levels of education impact one’s employment prospects. According to the past four quarterly labour force surveys (QLFS), the highest percentages of unemployment are observed in sections of the labour force with less than a matric school leaving certificate at 39.1%. This closely is followed by those with only a matric certificate at 36.6%. Effectively 75.7% of those who are unemployed have only a matric certificate or less. In addition, 3.4 million (33%) out of 10.2 million young people aged 15-24 years are not in employment, education, or training (NEET).

‘Education Rescue Plan’  

The One South Africa Movement (OSA) has a vision for an affordable, quality education from the earliest stages of schooling to high-level degrees that prepare students for a future economy. To ensure every child has an inclusive education, opportunities for life-long learning and a career of their choice. 

In educating our society, the paramount goal must be to prepare young people to become upright citizens who add value to the marketplace and can play their part in contributing to the economic and social needs of the country. We need hardworking, highly talented and goal-oriented people in all sectors of our society. And to this, our education system requires an overhaul in order to become a high quality, affordable and internationally competitive system.

It is within this context that OSA has tabled an “Education Rescue Plan” to ensure the stark structural inequalities and fixable barriers to learning are addressed. This document outlines a rescue plan that will ensure that our young people have access to upwards economic mobility, in which they can become the future industrialists that Africa needs and future scientists who discover the cures for diseases of the present and future.

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We propose 10 interventions that, if implemented immediately, would rescue South Africa’s education system and provide a stable foundation for progressive development in the coming years.

1. Drop the 30% pass mark for subjects

2. Introduce an independent education ombudsman         

3. Raise salaries for educators and curtail union power

4. Replace Life Orientation with mandatory skills subject

5. Incentivise students during the academic year

6. Prioritise primary phase of education

7. Implement tighter security at all schools 

8. Expand extended programmes for underperforming learners

9. Reprioritise the budget for digital learning and infrastructure

10. Conduct a nationwide teacher skills audit

It is by no means a comprehensive overhaul plan, rather a list of targeted interventions that are desperately required. With an annual cost of over R280 billion, over 24 000 schools under its supervision and almost 13 million learners in the system, we cannot afford anything but robust scrutiny of our education system.

Our nation’s toughest challenges of unemployment, poverty and inequality cannot be addressed without dealing with the elephant in the room – the dismal state of our education system. We are failing to educate our young people, and we need to do better.

– Mmusi Maimane is Chief Activist of the One South Africa Movement (OSA). 

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