Three steps we need to take to take education forward

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Here is what we have learnt from coronavirus: We have come to know, in no uncertain terms, that our education system is severely unequal and in parts, broken.

We have come to see and experience that we are trapping the poor in a vicious cycle of poverty; that many children who place their hopes of success on doing well in school, may indeed do well, but that due to flaws in the system, their individual efforts may not be enough for them to emerge victorious on the other side.

Minister Angie Motshekga, we now know that the education system is a supply chain for the global economy. We know that the skills and competencies we should be chasing and teaching should be informed by what is needed and required in the market.

We need an agile and responsive curriculum if we are to stay above board. You may have observed, even before Covid-19, that our curriculum is gravely outdated and that there is indeed a mismatch between what is taught in school, and what is needed in the world.

Minister, we do not have the luxury of time. We have already failed millions of children that have gone through our education system. Too many lives have become helpless and hopeless, jobless and poor, and now too many people are apathetic about their lives and the state of this nation.

It would seem that the irreversible damage that we have already caused will live with us for a long time. But, we do have an opportunity to turn this around - to be moved by this dire situation and to do something about it. We can start with three core things that will shift the paradigm of the education in SA significantly:

School infrastructure

This is not just your responsibility minister. It is the school leadership, the teachers, the learners, the business leaders and the communities at large.

All learners need a conducive learning environment for effective learning to take place.

Structurally, strong buildings with windows, doors, decent ablution facilities, safe flooring, fencing, basic equipment and furniture.

Quality learning material

We know that even the best of teachers struggle to teach effectively without teaching and learning material. Our children have been sharing textbooks for too long. Textbooks, workbooks, activity books, graded readers and storybooks in children's home languages - these should never be in short supply in any learning institution.

Excellent teaching staff

I agree with the 2007 McKinsey Report, How the world's best-performing school systems come out on top. The report states that the quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers. I know this all too well, as a former head of school.

Minister, you may already know that we have an ageing teacher population, that the quality of teachers coming out of universities does not align with the rapid changes taking place in the sector and that the institutions offering teacher training seem to be detached from the schooling system.

Our teacher problem is multifaceted: from the salaries we have chosen to pay teachers, the number of young people who do not aspire to go into the profession, the selection criteria used in institutions of higher learning to the worrisome teacher training courses on offer.

We must do all that we can to ensure that we get the right people for the job and create the necessary incentives to keep them in the system.

Minister, we must do these things, and we must do them now.

- Yandiswa Xhakaza is the CEO of Nal'ibali

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