World Review | South Africa fails to deliver Mandela’s education vision

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South Africa fails to deliver Mandela’s education vision

South Africa fails to deliver Mandela’s education vision
Businesses say South Africa’s education system does not prepare young people for the job market (photo:dpa)

SOUTH AFRICA is facing an education crisis. It has failed to uphold the dream of former South Africa leader Nelson Mandela - to provide equal opportunity to the nation’s young through education.

Mr Mandela, who led the nation from apartheid to democracy, believed that education was key to emancipation, social mobility – and to the future prosperity of South Africa. Yet this principle has still yet to be realised.

Observers have expressed concern about South Africa’s poor education and its potential to drive a growing number of unemployed into swelling public unrest.

The country’s schools are close to the bottom of international rankings. Some of the reasons for lack of progress are down to:

*Classes frequently interrupted by strikes or absent teachers

*High wage bills - 61 per cent of school spending goes toward salaries

*Corruption which leaves children without materials in overcrowded classrooms in poorly maintained schools

*Many teachers have little or no training and there is limited government oversight because of the powerful union, the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (SADTU), which is allied to the ruling party.

As president in 1994, Mr Mandela called on South Africans to solve the country’s ‘profound education crisis’. While Mr Mandela’s and subsequent administrations expanded access to education and de-segregated schools and universities, they failed to improve quality.

Results from South Africa’s Department of Basic Education school monitoring survey in 2011, which looked only at public schools, shows that minimum standards were not met in 14 out of 15 indicators.

Main concerns include teaching posts not being filled, the lack of curriculum being covered in a week, and the high number of pupils who are unable to access library facilities and enjoy basic physical infrastructure such as school buildings, grounds, furniture, equipment and apparatus believed essential to impart education.

The average taxpayer in South Africa sees 15 per cent of their taxes going into education. Education is South Africa’s single biggest budgetary item (20 per cent of total state spending). Of 31 emerging market countries, South Africa spends the second highest proportion of GDP (seven per cent) on schools.

Yet nationally 43 per cent of pupils were in schools that failed to meet minimum standards and 45 per cent of public schools failed to reach the minimum infrastructure standards.

The teaching of mathematics in rural and poor schools is the worst in southern and eastern Africa. Children in poorer African countries such as Lesotho and Zambia are out-performing children in South Africa. Findings by the Centre for Development and Enterprise show that less than one quarter of Class 6 teachers were able to answer Class 6 maths questions correctly.

It is not surprising that between 2000 and 2010 the number of public schools dropped by nine per cent while the number of independent schools increased by more than 44 per cent. The number of pupils enrolled at independent schools has risen by more than 50 per cent in that period.

South Africa’s education system is seeing an alternative developing - a de facto privatisation of schooling.

Studies show that there is a small, but growing low-fee private schooling sector in South Africa. From 2000 to 2010, the registered independent schools’ sector grew by 44 per cent and pupil enrolment by 75.9 per cent.

Low-fee private schools are charging annual fees less than 7,500 Rand (542 euros), with the least expensive charging only 2,500 Rand (180 euros).

Johannesburg-based Curro Holdings which opened its doors with 28 pupils in 1998 and is listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, enrolled 21,908 pupils in 2013. The company aims to increase its chain of private schools from 32 to 100 by 2023. Curro also runs its own teacher training college for some 1,000 teachers each year.

Bassa Educational Institute Trust, a black-owned non-profit group which runs four schools in Soweto, inner city Johannesburg and Diepsloot, educates some 5,000 pupils and employs 160 teachers. Spark schools are a network of private primary schools, which aims to grow to 64 schools in a decade.

The growth in independent education is relatively new. But it is displaying innovation and is keen for people to get involved - driven by two factors - profit and the demand created by the inadequacy of public schooling.

Some argue that South Africans have forgotten that change can come from the grassroots, from ordinary people acting in their own best interest. But in years to come the expansion and growth of low-cost private schools - through parents voting with their feet - might overcome some of the acquiesence to state domination.

Dr Pauline Dixon

DR PAULINE Dixon is a senior lecturer in International Development and Education at Newcastle University in the North East of England. She is Research Director of the E.G. West Centre at ...

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