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Broken schools breed South Africa's ‘lost generation’

By Jon Herskovitz and Lisa Laventure, Reuters | Jan 31, 2012 | COMMENTS [ 38 ]

Education problems pose long-term economic risks - Nearly half of young adults not in school or work - Corruption eats away at funding

The first blow to Martha Netshiozwe’s future came when her parents died of AIDS.

The second came when she ran out of money and had to drop out of a South African high school.     

Netshiozwe, 23, is a product of the first post-apartheid generation who entered a new and aspiring education system which aimed to heal the economic divisions created by the white-minority government. But like many, she left without the skills to qualify for anything other than manual labour.     

Despite pouring billions of dollars into education, the ruling African National Congress (ANC) has little to show for its money except for public primary schools regarded as among the worst in the world and millions of students destined for a life in the underclass.     

“If you don’t have an education, you don’t have a chance in life,” said Netshiozwe, who is unemployed with little prospect of finding regular work.

She and her HIV-infected aunt live together and scrape by on about $100 a month in welfare benefits.     

Nearly half of South Africa’s 18 to 24 year olds — the first generation educated after apartheid ended in 1994  — are not in the education system and do not have a job, according to government data.     

Academics have called this group the “lost generation” and worry it will grow larger unless the government fixes a system riddled with failing schools, unskilled educators and corruption that stops funding from reaching its intended destinations.     

“This is an appalling waste of human potential and a potential source of serious social instability,” the Ministry of Higher Education said this month when it unveiled sweeping plans for boosting university enrollment and improving vocational colleges.     

The lost generation poses long term risks for Africa’s largest economy, which is trying to grow its tax base as it funds increased social spending.     

There are about three people receiving social welfare payments for each taxpayer.

While the recipients of state funds are set to increase substantially under anti-poverty programmes, the number of taxpayers is not, which should cause already yawning budget deficits to widen.     

Major ratings agencies are also worried.     

Fitch, this month, and Moody’s a few months ago, downgraded the outlook for South Africa, saying the government has not done enough to tackle structural problems including chronic unemployment, growing state debt and a broken education system.

CRIPPLED BY CORRUPTION     

South Africa does not suffer a lack of plans or finances for education, the largest sector of state spending and accounting for more than 20% of the budget.     

The problems are with implementation.     

Corruption eats away at money.

Teachers are poorly trained and challenged by a constantly shifting curriculum.

Schools are often shut by teachers’ strikes.      

There have been numerous changes for the better in the ANC-run education system with more of the country’s blacks, excluded from most high-quality education under apartheid, entering high-performing schools.     

Once almost exclusively white, universities now reflect the racial composition of the country with more people from groups disenfranchised by apartheid climbing the ladder with a degree or diploma.     

But at the same time, the number of people living in poverty has changed little since apartheid ended, with no remedy in sight given the structural problems in education.     

“As things stand, the ANC is wreaking untold damage on our children and, consequently, on the country’s future, just as apartheid education did in the past,” said Barney Mthombothi, editor of the influential weekly Financial Mail.     

Hundreds of schools do not have electricity or running water and absenteeism has become such a concern that President Jacob Zuma has begged teachers to show up for classes.      

A study by graft watchdog Transparency International last year pointed to massive local level corruption resulting in millions of students not having desks, chairs or books.     

The central government has been trying to take over two provincial education systems that are effectively bankrupt.      

In Limpopo province, students started the school year in January without textbooks even though millions of dollars had been allocated for purchases, with media reports saying a politically connected figure may have pocketed the funds.     

This month, the central government said Limpopo, which has recorded some of the country’s worst results in standardised testing, had unauthorised expenditure of 2,2 billion rand ($275 million). The province had more than 2,400 teachers on the payroll, including 200 “ghost teachers” who were not in classrooms but were still paid.     

TICKET OUT OF POVERTY     

A university education is seen as the best ticket out of poverty. Competition is fierce and at some of the top schools, there are about 10 applicants for each place.     

The desperate demand for higher education led to a stampede at the University of Johannesburg this month when thousands of applicants lined up for a few hundred available places on the final day to submit paperwork.      

“The lofty status of universities is an indicator of a lack of status for any other alternative for post-school education,” said Frances Faller, an education expert at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.     

About 8 in 10 unemployed have not completed secondary education or just made it through high school.

Only 6% of South Africa’s jobless have a university degree, a study from the South African Institute for Race Relations said.     

The odds are also stacked against those who hope to find entry-level employment. Economists say labour laws make it difficult for employers who want to take on new workers and train them for jobs.     

A cosy relationship between the ANC and organised labour, formed in their partnership against apartheid, has hampered apprenticeship programmes.     

The ANC, which relies on the 2 million members of top labour federation COSATU as a source of votes, has put off plans denounced by unions but backed by economists to reduce youth  unemployment by allowing firms to hire youths at cut-rate wages and train them up.     

“We will never let them get away with making these laws even more ‘flexible’ to allow even higher levels of exploitation,” COSATU said in a statement.     

ANC governments have spent billions of dollars on job training programmes only to see large sums lost to corruption, while producing few graduates with skills required by employers.     

“I know what will happen to me if I don’t get into school,” said university applicant Eddie Ncube, 18. “Look at what I am exposed to. I am from the ghetto. Without school, I will get into drugs and I’ll never find a job.”

COMMENTS [ 38 ]

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im sorry $100?

are we american now?????

Jan 31, 2012 8:11 | 0 replies

The list of Dept's the ANC has trashed:

Health
Education
Policing
SANDF
Municipalities


If you look at what that all includes you will see there isn't much more for them to stuff up. It's time to stop voting for a revolution which happened 20 yrs ago and vote for you future.

Jan 31, 2012 11:37 | 0 replies

I read in the Sunday Times that there are only 3.5 million individual tax payers who besides companies, keeping the whole country going. We should boycott or just pay our tax late to show the government that we are not happy that they are wasting and stealing our tax money.

Let the people on grants realise that it is not the ANC giving them cash but it is the taxpayer .

Jan 31, 2012 11:54 | 0 replies

some people are just lazy.... must be a culture thing. no wonder Africans couldnt build or develop anything for themselves and they rely so heavily on whites for everything.

Jan 31, 2012 12:2 | 0 replies

We can huff and puff all we like but as long as idiots who dont see that the ruling party is just milking the coffers dry, we not going anywhere.
Hell even their RDP houses are worse than the 4 roomed houses built by the national party, so what exactly has the ANC done for the masses in 16 years.

Jan 31, 2012 12:5 | 0 replies

Already we have a generation lost.
The inflated matric rate passes will show in the end.
This group of people are setting a trap for the next two/three decades to come.
The government led by illeterates can never breed literates.
There is no strategy at all.
Can all see the disater in making??

Jan 31, 2012 12:29 | 0 replies

Education is every child's right regardless of colour. ANC must stop this racist and "discriminist" education system. Returning bad policy with other bad policies does not take the country very far! no wonder why literacy rates remain low even 17 years after independence! we talikng a whole new generation here! stop reverse racism and concentrate on bettering life for all!

Jan 31, 2012 12:40 | 0 replies

@Mgebe
"Hell even their RDP houses are worse than the 4 roomed houses built by the national party, so what exactly has the ANC done for the masses in 16 years".
Nothing but the trueth only, to confirm the fact some of the houses were built before my birth mid sixties but those houses stood the test of times as compared to this cheap yester RDP houses falling apart, most of their roofs upported by big rocks to avoid blown off.

Jan 31, 2012 1:17 | 0 replies

Click74, well said! Why can't they just expand the vet school so we can get more vets for this country. We badly need vets but the ANC rather turns students down because of the colour of their skin.

Jan 31, 2012 1:19 | 0 replies

Which one is better for black folks? to be oppressed by apartheid or your very own government?

Jan 31, 2012 2:3 | 0 replies

@Wordoftruth
"Which one is better for black folks? to be oppressed by apartheid or your very own government?"
Neither of the two, BAD GOVERNMENT REMAINS "BAD" whether from blacks or white.

Jan 31, 2012 2:27 | 0 replies