Everyone has an opinion on what should change in the education sector, but it is a tough nut to crack. After coming out of Covid there should be a catchup strategy where children go to school during weekends and their vacations. One of the colleges that offered training during the apartheid era, where education was fragmented into racial enclaves, meant that after 1994 the new government had a huge task to first implement one education system for all and then to re-arrange the skewered allocation of funds which had concentrated on 10% of the population to the exclusion of others.
In 2021 the Progress in International Literacy Study (PIRLS) found that 81% of South African children cannot read for meaning (reading comprehension) in any language in Grade 4. That means that they struggle to answer a question in an examination. The Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga said that it was due to the disruption in schools during Covid. Our education system’s problems are, however, more complicated than that, but she had a valid point. Professor Nic Spaul of the 2030 Reading Panel Secretariat believes that all children in South Africa are a year behind because of that.
Motshekga further said that to address the lack of a reading culture (which also results in a lack of general knowledge) people should buy their children books instead of toys.
Takalani Sesame, a programme for children on television, bases their whole oeuvre on teaching from the Foundational Phase curriculum. One of their lessons is about how to open a book which epitomises the severe lack of a reading culture. Perhaps there is a role for NGOs here?
Naptosa, the National Professional Teaching Organisation of South Africa, in response to the PIRLS report that 81% of children cannot read for comprehension in Grade 4, also decried the lack of a reading culture as well as overcrowding (big classes). They claimed that most of these children are in no-fee paying schools that are under-resourced. There is a demand for teachers because 45% of teachers will be retiring in 10 years.
A quarter of teachers who trained during apartheid and had to adjust to a new curriculum may be reluctant to stay after school, work weekends and holidays. The dedicated ones will be up to the task but generally, an older person wants to go home and put up their feet to reduce the swelling of standing all day. Another issue is career counselling.
Professor Kobus Maree in an article written for The Conversation (2020) says that during apartheid disadvantaged students were denied access to career counselling. Consequently, schools in under- resourced areas have never closed that gap. Writing on “How to fix the gap between school and work in South Africa’ Professor Maree names mathematics, physical science and to a lesser extent accounting as the “gateway subjects”. Grade 12 mathematics and physical science contribute 22% to the economy, he states. These two subjects plus IT skills and “soft skills” such as critical thinking and adaptability is a winning combination.
Industry is shrinking and all efforts should be directed to the services sector. At the same time he criticises an overly academic school system and advised that in Grade 9 some of the pupils should be steered towards the TVET colleges. A technical high school like the John Orr High School which is an Engineering School of Specialisation in line with the government’s Transformation, Modernisation and Reindustrialisation (TMR) strategy has opened 16 other schools of specialisation, which is a good choice.
There have been discussions about the suitability of degrees at universities as well. A study by K Mubarak at the University of the Western Cape in 2019 ‘Reflections of employed graduates on the suitability of their skills and knowledge for workplace readiness’ revealed that most of them felt that they were not really prepared for the world of work.
The reasons may be many, but it is enough of an indication that academic institutions should take note and re-evaluate their approach. What should the new education framework to suit the new world of work look like?
Taking into account the problems outlined above there will not be a quick fix. There are many ideas out there that have to be fine-tuned and tested, which will cover many years of dedicated work. Brian Isaacs, an education rights activist mentions a few: a maximum of 30 in a class; mathematics should be compulsory; there should be a school psychologist and a relationship between business and schools.