Education Watch

Educational system set to become a war zone

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With the 2017 real matric pass rate in the order of only 45%, and promised free tertiary education engulfed in a cloud of controversy, South Africa’s educational system is in a deepening crisis.

 While official spokes people claim a 75.1% success rate for the matric class of 2017, in reality the basic education system failed at least 55% of the country’s just short of 1,9m children who entered the system 12 years earlier in 2006.

Only 629 155 of them, or 53%, made it made into the final two-year matric-cycle. And of those only 534 484 sat for the final examination – with a further 94 671, or 15% of them dropping out during those two years.

And, as commentator Peter Mansfield in an article for BizNews explains, these figures only reflect a single aspect of a much wider and deeper crisis in the educational system, which is not unique to South Africa.

“Has nobody noticed that this is the 21st Century? That we are speeding faster and faster into the Fourth Industrial Revolution? Into a world of AI (artificial intelligence), and cleverer and cleverer robotics. Change is taking place at an unprecedented pace, yet educational systems (worldwide, but especially in SA) carry on in the same old way, decade after decade,” Mansfield writes.

In a statement, responding to the matric results, the South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU) also alludes to this factor – the non-delivery of labour market-ready students. It urges those matrics who did not pass “… to go back and work hard during this year in order to pass. Going out of the system with the hope that they will get some job will be disastrous for them. 

“The future for many of those who passed will also be very challenging. They will be entering a world in which job opportunities are shrinking by the day. Even those who fight their way into tertiary education will have no guarantee of employment after they graduate.” 

Immediate battle

However, besides these structural problems throughout the entire educational system, on which Mansfield writes “government is spending more money, … pushing more learners/students through a broken educational sausage machine, teaching them facts, instead of the skills they are going to need ... (which) may be good populist politics, but it is terrible for the victims (learners) and their futures. ”A storm is brewing.

The SAFTU-statement also encapsulated this storm, declaring: “For those who have passed matric, attention now switches to the crisis in the universities. This follows President Zuma’s opportunist pledge, just before the ANC National Conference, that he was going to implement free tertiary education for poor students. 

“He and his ministers have yet to explain properly who will qualify for free education, when it will become available and how it will be financed and administered. “University authorities claim they were not even consulted about this plan and are pressing ahead with fee increases.”

The Zuma announcement created the expectation that free tertiary can kick off this year already. In the meantime, government indicated that Minister of Finance Malusi

Gigaba will in his 21 February national budget reveal how he will cut expenditure by R25 million whilst increasing taxes to raise an additional R15 billion in order to mobilise the R40 billion needed annually to fund free tertiary education.

However, in the meantime, most universities are this week starting with their academic year. It is also unsure if qualifiers for tertiary education from previous years will also qualify for free education under the Zuma announcement.

The populist Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) has immediately pounced on this situation and plan mass walk-ins for registration at university campuses across the country led by them and, under ‘security’ provided by them.

At a media briefing on the subject, State Security Minister Bongani Bongo, who serves on an inter-ministerial committee (IMC) for higher education, amongst other said the State Security Agency was working on a plan with all relevant student organisations to ensure that registration wasn't disrupted. He also claimed, “issues of higher education are issues of state security at the same time."

Throw, besides the EFF ‘security’, a police presence, and campus security, into the mix and a very explosive situation could develop. It has the potential in having the #FeesMustFall protests, which started in late 2015, appear like the proverbial Sunday school picnic.

Potential wider protests

In its statement SAFTU describe the Zuma-announcement as an “opportunistic manipulation that amounts to a typical example of robbing Peter to pay Paul.”

It also points out that it, in December 2016, submitted a Section 77 application, with one of its demands being that education must be free, compulsory, decolonised and of high-quality throughout the system. “We now have a right to embark on a protected (national) strike should a need arise.” 

SAFTU adds: “We are mobilising our members to reject further austerity measures based on the so-called instruction by the President to the Minister of Finance to cut expenditure …;” and “SAFTU reaffirms its support for free education at all levels and will join the students when they renew the #FeesMustFall campaign, in support of their genuine demand for scrapping fees, in line with the Freedom Charter’s call that “Education shall be free, compulsory, universal and equal for all children”. 

However, it also states that “Zuma’s opportunist plan is a sham, because he has bankrupted the country through neoliberal, pro-business economic strategies, reduced the economy to junk status, and turned an economic crisis into a nightmare through corruption and looting of the country, and the political instability this has caused.” 

All indications are that the South African educational is in danger of experiencing another highly disrupted year in the months to come.

by Intelligence Bulletin Team

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