What kind of basic education is SA youth receiving- IRR’s Caiden Lang answers

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South Africa will commemorate the 16 June 1976 Soweto youth uprising on Friday.  It has been 47 years since hundreds of young people were killed by the apartheid government police for protesting against the use of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction in secondary schools.

This year the day is commemorated under the theme “Accelerating youth economic emancipation for a sustainable future”.

Literacy rate at primary level 

The commemoration comes at a time when the education system is facing various challenges. Recently, the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study report found that 81% of Grade 4 learners cannot read for meaning.

South African Institute of Race Relations researcher Caiden Lang says the majority of South Africa’s primary schools are failing to provide children with an education sufficient to allow them to live a life of dignity and find meaningful work.

“Many of the 81% of children referred to in the question will be pushed through the grades, grow despondent at not being able to engage with the school curriculum in any meaningful way, and drop out of school to join the masses of the unemployed. The crisis reveals that the lip service paid by the government to improving early-grade literacy is just that—lip service. Given these poor results, it is clear that the government is out of its depth and has no real plan to tackle the illiteracy crisis. ”

Teachers play an integral part in the success of learners at school. In the South African case, Lang argues that primary school teachers are not well-equipped to improve the learners’ poor literacy outcomes.

“The vast majority of teachers employed at free government schools have neither the content nor pedagogical knowledge to be able to teach effectively… South Africa has one of the highest rates of teacher absenteeism in the world, a problem disproportionately affecting poor schools. Once again, the problem exists because the department appears to have neither the desire nor the ability to hold these schools to account.”

A discussion on the PIRLS report: 

Government expenditure 

The problems in the basic education system are continuing despite the government’s immense expenditure in the department.

In his budget speech earlier this year, Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana announced that the basic education sector will receive 66.9% of the learning and culture funding over the Medium-Term Expenditure Framework period, with half of the expenditure going towards the compensation of employees.

The department’s spending is expected to rise from R39.4 billion in the 2023–24 financial year to R316.5 billion in 2024–25.

“The problem, once again, is a lack of accountability. You can throw money at a problem all you want, but it will not make a difference if those in charge of spending it are not held to account for where and how it is spent.”

The national Youth Day commemoration will be taking place at the Dr Petrus Rantlai Molemela Stadium, in Bloemfontein in the Free State.