Education crisis a recipe for disaster
UNLESS the government injects a renewed seriousness into the public service, and encourages and supports public-private partnerships centred on educationoutcomes and measurable success of students and pupils, South Africa will continue to limp from ne tragedy to another; whether it be Marikana, electoral violence, service delivery problems protests, economic ratings downgrading or rampant crime.
I want to highlight how I believe civil society, the government, and corporate South Africa can thwart the tyranny that has so frequently been the downfall of post-liberation African states. Many a teacher and education department official alike can be heard expounding platitudes on the importance of education for individual and societal development. As civil society (and the electorate), however, the time has come South African Democratic Teachers' Union (Sadtu) and the education department to account for South Africa being the worst performing country in terms of mathematics and science education quality, according to a recent study of 62
countries conducted by the World Economic Forum (WEF).
Without a direct accountability mechanism, the R165 billion (2010/11 figure) of taxpayers' money spent on education will decline over time as more radical, unpatriotic (but "legal") tax-avoidance schemes render South African Revenue Services' appeals for tax fruitless. The research company TNS South Africa in July revealed that half of the respondents in a countrywide survey were "not happy with
the education system in their area". The only minister I have ever heard acknowledge the education catastrophe is Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor.
Addressing the 17th annual Association for Mathematics Education in South Africa she said: "Our dismal performance in mathematics and science remains a major obstacle to fighting unemployment among our young people", and adding what I believe to be the key to our economy's conundrum: "We need new and inspiring public-private partnerships as we can no longer afford to send young black people to fail at university." An academic paper that altered the course of my life was "Student
Graduation, Labour Market Destinations, and Employment Earnings" (Bhorat, Mayet, Visser, 2010) which demonstrates Pandor's point: for every three African students enrolled at a tertiary institution, only one is likely to graduate and two will probably leave prematurely or "drop out"; while for every three white students at a tertiary institution, two are likely to graduate and only one will leave prematurely or drop out. The paper delves into socio-economic dynamics, and finds that similar disparities occur in high schools and at work. In the two years we have been operating our tutorials services and learning materials enterprise, iLearn2BFree, we have noticed another trend that further illustrates what Bhorat, Mayet, Visser, and the minister speak of: Roughly70 percent of the students who make use of our services are white, while10 percent are black, and 20 percent are coloured and Indian. Members of our executive team, our head tutors, and the many tutors surmise anecdotally that this simulates the racialised resource and wealth distributions in our economy.
If this hypothesis is true, our Gini Coefficient (which measures inequality in a population) will continue to widen even further, as only those students who can afford supplementary private tutorials and learning materials provision and who are from relatively wealthy backgrounds stand any reasonable chance of graduating. Realising the potential dangers - "class warfare" at the extreme end of the spectrum - inherent in this development, we have recently partnered with corporate and non governmental organisations which sponsor high performing students from disadvantaged area who gets tuition, residence, catering, and books fully paid for at an historically white institution like Stellenbosch, inexplicably fail all his/her courses in first-year and get academically excluded for not securing enough credits for readmission. It is instances like this that make interventions like ours invaluable: we operate at the coalface of tertiary education, with intimate knowledge of learning-outcomes expectations on students by tertiary institutions. South Africa has a gross tertiary education enrolment rate of between 15.2 - 15.41 percent. This rate is marginally higher than almost all African countries, but is lower than all our other Brics economic partner nations, namely Brazil (25.63 percent), Russia and China (25.95 percent). Given our low student enrolment rate, coupled with the high drop-out rate, it then becomes a mystery what the government does with the R165bn making up the combined budget for both the basic and the higher education departments. I did some investigating. The "Annual Report 2011/12 Department of Higher Education and Training: Presentation to the
Portfolio Committee on Higher Education and Training" was presented to Parliament on October 16. The report is a 12-month summary of the department's operations and I expected to read how a) enrolment rates had been increased year-onyear; b) drop-out rates had decreased; c) graduation rates had increased; and d) scarce-skills shortages
had been reduced. Instead, "Programme 3: University Education" with the sub-heading "Key Achievements" had this list (from which I have sampled 10 best "key achievements" verbatim): . The ministerial statement on enrolment planning in universities was approved and communicated to universities.
Approved a project plan, management team, and a steering committee, to oversee the establishment of two new universities. Final draft of the policy framework for the provision of distance higher education in South Africa was submitted to the minister for approval to publish in the Government Gazette for public comment.
Project plan for the establishment of a national central application service was developed and work has started. Report of the ministerial committee for the review of the provision of student housing at South African universities was published and launched by the minister. Implementation of Phase 3 of the higher education HIV/Aids programme was successfully implemented. A national transformation seminar was held as a follow-up to the higher education stakeholder summit held in 2010. Integrated strategic planning framework for teacher education and development in South Africa (2011-2025) was published and launched.
South African Journal for Childhood Education supported and launched with two editions published. Scholarship support for four honours students, 34 MEd students and 39 PhD students (human resource development for expansion). None of the "key achievements" addressed the managing of the crisis in tertiary education, except perhaps for "successfully implementing Phase 3 of higher education HIV/Aids programme" and "providing scholarship support" for 77 post-graduate students.
All else, I felt, entailed either: a) a plan being formulated; b) a document being sent; c) approval being granted; or d) a committee being established. Bear in mind that Programme3 accounts for R23bn of the department's spending annually. No doubt by now I am on the brink of being called "a counter-revolutionary", "a neo-liberal" and all the other adjectives reserved for" former comrades" like myself who dare critically evaluate the slow pace of government service delivery; a tendency (again) that is symptomatic of the intellectual degradation our country's national discourse has suffered and continues to suffer from. I will "redeem myself" and say that the government's plans and committees are excellently worded and structured on paper, but frequently lack the expertise, resolve, and goal-orientation from the many
apparatchiks appointed to critical positions with nothing but political loyalty as their only qualification. Mahabeni is a University of Cape Town (UCT) finance and economics graduate, a finance honours student, former Young Communist Remember and Give (RAG) Committee League (UCT) secretary-general, former Member, former UCT Student Representative Council (SRC) Treasurer, and Founder & CEO at www.ilearn2bfree.com and writes this contribution in his capacity as iLearn2BFree: Founder and MD. Inaccuracies and indiscretions he accepts in his personal capacity