Education – what have we achieved?

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Looking back on 20 years of Education
Graeme Bloch, Visiting Adjunt Professor, Wits P&DM

We have made much progress in education over the last 20 years. Literacy levels are rising; the proportion of people who have completed matric has gone up; education is compulsory.

No one has ever disputed my figures: in 1976, under Bantu Education, less than 26% of kids got beyond primary school – now there are huge dropout rates, but at least we care. Bantu Education was a terrible system, and we are still reaping the heritage today.
Yes, we have a non-racial system. We have two departments, one for basic and one for higher education and training. Education has risen to priority number one. We have incredible logistics that are able to secure a matric exam, set papers, send them out, mark them, send out results.

But we are not getting it. While the rest of the world is global, competitive, and horribly cutthroat, we have to progress in leaps and bounds if we are to compete. No one in Brazil or India is lamenting our terrible past.

Our ANAs (Annual National Assessments) -driven by government- show how terrible our literacy and numeracy are at foundation levels. Barely 35% can read or count at the required levels. Those who do well struggle to find place in a tertiary education institution.

So even a pass mark of 30%, abysmal as it is, doesn’t guarantee a place in further education. There are queues outside the universities, of young people who achieved a diploma pass in the recent matric examinations. Even if you pass, there is no guarantee today of a job or place in a Further Education and Training College. You may have to walk miles to school and are lucky to have a toilet that works.

I don’t understand why we are so hard on our kids. We have given up on inspiring them. We want to beat the hell out of them, as if that will re-create discipline or add to their marks, “like in my day”. Yet, in my day, pass marks were around 30% and still I made it to seventh in the Cape Province. Still we achieved.

This is the discussion we need to have after 20 years. What is education for? What is possible in South Africa? How much are we prepared to spend and on which institutions? Why do our scientists and mathematicians need to be the best in the world (to cure malaria and HIV/AIDS or to look at the stars through the SKA)?

Let us keep pressure on those who can make a difference – District officials, principals, MECs: and all those at school level, including students and teachers. Teachers are the key. But let us help them, not blame all teachers for the sins of many. Universities must up their training. SGBs must do their jobs.

Yes, we must keep pressure up: but we too, as parents and communities, as citizens, must come to the party.

For the latest news in the field of Education, click here.

– By Graeme Bloch, (Wits P&DM), SABC