Open letter to South Africa’s students‚ universities and government‚ represented by Minister in the .
DURING dinner at a workshop in 2003 to discuss strategies of improving the attainment of our kids in maths and science, a Cuban tutor who was part of the contingent seconded to the Department of Education at the time, observed that South Africans have a tendency to hold meetings or conferences to deliberate on issues that should be handled routinely.
She was spot-on. She was saying that if we want success in maths and science in our schools, we should establish and run systems that work.
She was saying if we could run an education system that produces teachers of maths and science, appoint them in our schools, provide facilities and instruments in those schools to enable them to teach, ensure the schools are run properly, then improved results would come.
This incident came to mind when I heard that President Jacob Zuma, on the occasion of his meeting with school principals, threatened to make surprise visits to schools to check if all is well. I felt only pity for the president. Where in the world have you heard of a head of state paying unannounced visits to schools to enforce discipline?
It would be wonderful if our head of state could occasionally pay a well-advertised, ceremonial visit to some school or other, but definitely not an enforcement one.
Azapo maintains that education is by far the most effective redress mechanism available. We would be able to tackle poverty, joblessness and inequality much better and in a sustainable way if we gave our people, especially the young, good education and skills.
Educated and skilled people are better placed to grow the economy, create jobs for themselves and others.
The president must have decided on this rather unusual step out of a conviction that everything must be done to ensure that our children get a good education.
But I am afraid that beyond symbolism, this step will have very little effect.
The president has two ministers of education at national level and nine MECs of education in the provinces. These lead 11 directors-general and layers upon layers of officials and professionals, right down to the teacher in the classroom.
With this legion of people employed to work the system of education, why is it necessary for the head of state to pay surprise visits to schools to check on its efficacy?
In any case, there are 28000 schools in South Africa. How many can the president visit? And once at a school, what can he really do?
The truth of the matter is that nobody knows what is going on in South African classrooms.
Not the principal of a school or the circuit manager or district manager; not the director-general of education at any level; not the MEC or the minister of education can tell you what is going on in our classrooms. It is a closed book.
In most schools there are no lesson preparation records, nor is there any monitoring of lessons in the classroom by anybody.
So, apart from rocking up at a school, looking around and making a speech, what can the president really do?
Even the principal and circuit managers, who might be present during the visit, would not be able to show him records that would give him an idea of what is going on in the classrooms of that school.
As a nation, we should be ashamed that we subject our head of state to such an embarrassing situation.
We should be equally ashamed that we are not giving our children the education they deserve. We are failing them.
Fortunately, we can fix this. We need only make sure that the system works by enforcing its rules and regulations.
Every official should just do their work and ensure that the discipline of the system is observed by all, without exception.
Systemic issues cannot be replaced by ceremony or fleeting television pictures. The Cuban tutor had hit the nail right on the head.
With that, we would save the president a run-around he should not be doing, and in the process, ensure that our children get a decent education.
lThe writer is president of Azapo and former Minister of Science and Technology.