Education Watch

South African education heading for crunch time

Jonathan Jansen
Johathan Jansen.jpg

With evidence mounting that South Africa’s education system is in deep crisis, schools across the country could be plunged into chaos next week.

In what seems to be a South African knack to choose the most inopportune times for such events, next week’s threatening chaos comes at a time when schools and learners should be focusing on preparations for the upcoming end-of-year exams.

And ironically, the bone of contention is the Annual National Assessments (ANA) around the country, which is a diagnostic tool to assess literacy and numeracy, expected to be written between 15 and 18 September by about 8.6 million pupils in grades 1 to 9.

Barely a week before the tests are due to start, the country’s biggest teachers’[U1]  union, the South African Democratic Teachers Union (SADTU), has instructed its members not to take part in administering the Annual National Assessments (ANA). 

And it is not just SADTU that has a problem with the ANA. The South African Teachers’ Union (SAOU) chief executive, Chris Klopper, also said his union has asked the department for an urgent meeting over the issue, claiming it has always maintained the ANA, in its current form, does not achieve what the Department of Basic Education says it does.

“More specifically, it is neither diagnostic nor formative and contributes little, if anything, to an accurate assessment of either the curriculum or the learner’s achievement,” he said.

An urgent meeting between union leaders and the Department of Basic Education (DBE) is scheduled for this next week and if a solution is not found, schools around the country could be plunged into administrative chaos when assessments start.

Much wider crisis

Besides the fact that the country’s tertiary education institutions are in a state of turmoil of their own, the looming ANA crisis comes against mounting evidence of a school system in crisis on a number of fronts.

A short summary of headlines in the news during recent weeks tells the story:

  • SANCO is fighting corruption and fraudulent qualifications within KwaZulu-Natal schools;
  • DA NW: Dr Tutu Faleni says Education Department’s 104 school closures a case of gross negligence;
  • Education landscape in SA reminds of 1976 (the time of widespread learners’ revolt);
  • Report finds rampant corruption at Gauteng school;
  • SA school violence shock;
  • South Africa's disabled children ‘excluded from school’; and
  • SA education is rubbish – Jonathan Jansen;

The first headline deals with a statement by the South African National Civic Organisation in which it claims: “Sanco has noted with great concern various irregularities within the education sector and as such has resolved to leave no stone unturned in combating all forms of such acts which are not in the best interest of the African learner. We are sick and tired of individuals without qualifications or with fraudulent qualifications occupying strategic positions in the education of our children.”

The second headline deals with a statement from the Democratic Alliance in the North West province that the Department of Education has closed 104 schools in the province without any plans for future usage, or public consultation.

The third headline is to a report of a speech by SAOU’s Klopper in which he told a symposium of headmasters that there is huge pressure from government to turn public schools back into state schools, recreating the sort of conditions that led to the 1976 uprising among learners across the country;

The fourth headline is to a report on claims by the Gauteng MEC for Education, Panyaza Lesufi, made to reporters that a KPMG forensic report has found “rampant corruption” at a school in Johannesburg.

The fifth headdline deals with a National School Violence study that has found South Africa comes second after Jamaica with the most incidents of violence at schools internationally. Veronica Hofmeester, chairperson of the South African Council of Educators (SACE) told a SADTU conference that the study found 22% of all earners are subjected to violence at school.

The sixth headline deals with the findings of a study by the US-based Human Rights Watch that found than an estimated 500 000 disabled children in South Africa are being excluded from the system. They are excluded from mainstream schools and forced to wait years for places at special schools.

The seventh headline (effectively summarising the overall picture) deals with a speech last week by the outspoken vice-chancellor and rector of the University of the Free State, Jonathan Jansen, who in reaction to plans by government to introduce Mandarin as a school subject, said: “I don’t see the need for introducing Mandarin when we can’t seem to teach English, Afrikaans and Zulu first properly. Bringing in Mandarin is political gatkruiping (brown-nosing).”  

Also acknowledging that the universities had challenges, he said that, however, the “base of education is extremely weak”.

“We need a long-term plan to get out of this mess. We should be thinking like Singapore who look 20 years ahead, but instead we only see tomorrow. Our role models are also these dysfunctional people in Parliament, when they should be Steve Biko or Robert Sobukwe. [Instead] we are training barbarians who are racist and sexist. They may be trained [in a subject or career], but they are not educated,” he said.

by Piet Coetzer

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