A TRAIN TO NOWHERE
Dear Minister Naledi Pandor,
Dear Minister Naledi Pandor,
My 18-year-old daughter is one of the thousands of pupils throughout the country who will be sitting for the matric examination this year.
I must say that as a parent I am very anxious. I suppose for many this is natural given the importance of a matric certificate as a conduit to further education and training in this country.
But what makes me more anxious is the fact that after 14 years of democracy we are still experimenting with what kind of education our children need.
As for the children, it is they, sitting for matric exams, who are the guinea pigs for this first outcome-based matric examination.
Earlier this week I heard you speaking on SABC2's Morning Live about the candidates' level of readiness.
While trying to paint an optimistic picture you also acknowledged that there were still problems in that some of the schools are not coping with the outcome-based curriculum.
It is also common knowledge that obstacles in this regard include a lack of resources, especially in previously disadvantaged communities. The issue of teacher training has also been raised.
As someone with relatives who are teachers, my personal experience is that some of them are overwhelmed by the system. They complain about how they have had to attend several quick-fix programmes, while also having to face the challenge of improvising in the classroom where there are not enough resources to match the demands of the new curriculum.
Sadtu's Thulas Nxesi has in many instances spoken about the quality of training that the teachers receive and how it falls short of the demands of the new system.
True, his input could be taken as mere politicking and typical of the contestation between employer and employee. But unfortunately some of his comments are substantiated by the concerns raised by the workers at the coalface - the teachers who have to teach in impoverished communities where basics such as stationery, desks and libraries are often a luxury.
I was flabbergasted to learn that many pupils from previously disadvantaged communities will not be writing computer application - which is the first examination paper to be written today.
I am told the reason for their being excluded is that they do not have access to computers and there are not enough qualified teachers to teach the subject.
Given the importance of information technology and the role computers play in education today, one can only gasp in horror at just how disadvantaged these pupils are and will be.
The other unfortunate reality is that in South Africa now there are two types of private schools. There are the well-known private schools such as Crawford College - where the majority of pupils are from well-to-do families - and then there are the private schools in impoverished communities such as Orange Farm.
Some of these are run by unscrupulous operators who abuse the system of government subsidies to line their pockets.
This means for pupils in these communities 1994 did not bring the relief they expected. Instead they will continue to be trapped in the vicious circle of poverty because of the quality of education they receive.
While apprehensive, I still feel my daughter is more advantaged because she goes to a good government school that has adequate resources to meet her needs. The reality is that it is not in a disadvantaged community.
My concern is for the thousands of parents whose children continue to face all the obstacles I have outlined simply because of the communities they come from.
The issue, honourable minister, is that we are 14 years into democracy and we have not yet developed the kind of education system that will prepare the majority of our pupils to become skilled and prosperous citizens who can qualitatively contribute to the development of this country.
What is it that the government has done wrong to fail to stabilise education in this country after 14 years?
Is it, as educationist Mamphela Ramphele has suggested, because South Africa adopted a Rolls Royce education model in a country suitable for a Volkswagen?
In that case we could learn from other African countries such as Kenya and Uganda - which faced the same challenges post-liberation.
According to Ramphele they adopted a Volkswagen model suitable for their conditions and they are making headway.
We could also learn from the Zimbabweans how they achieved in 10 years what we have been trying to achieve in the past 14 years. Save for its current political and economic crisis, Zimbabwe was a model of a country with an education system in tandem with its post-liberation challenges.
We should also ask ourselves what was good in bantu education that it produced matriculants such as Cyril Ramaphosa (Sekanontoana), Irvin Khoza (Morris Isaacson), Jomo Sono (Musi High) and Judge Ratha Mokgoatlheng (Madibane) - who have become luminaries in their fields.