The affordable education loan option
The overriding priority of our education system is our children, writes Jay Naidoo.
There comes a time in life when citizens of a nation have to take a stand. I feel that day has come.
I was astounded to hear in Durban last week that the SA Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) leaders have taken a decision to disrupt trial examinations of matric pupils in KwaZulu-Natal. We must unreservedly condemn the extraordinarily irresponsible decision to blockade entrances to exam distribution centres, thus preventing schools and pupils from accessing exam papers.
The president of the Congress of South African Students (Cosas), Collen Malatji, rightly declared, “We cannot sit back and allow Sadtu to use our members as a bargaining strategy whenever they have problems with the management.”
I agree with him.
There are many dedicated, hardworking teachers among my friends and family who also fiercely agree. Many of them are strong union members who assert, “This is ridiculous. We have spent months working with pupils, especially those from impoverished communities, to prepare for these exams. They were excited and ready to write. We, as teachers, have not been consulted. We do not agree with this decision as it jeopardises the future of our children. We are pawns in a political game we are not part of.”
Almost two decades into democracy our education system remains dysfunctional. Millions of our children whose futures are sabotaged are from the poorest of households. They are from families of working people struggling to eke out an existence. Many parents spend a huge part of their incomes covering transport and other costs to get their children to school. They pin their hopes on their children having a better life because they will have more skills and can get decent work.
But statistics paint a different reality. We live in a country where the official unemployment rate (those actively seeking work) is 25 percent, or more than 7 million people, while the broader unemployment rate is more than a third of our population.
Of even greater concern is the drop-out rate. Nearly 60 percent of our children who started school in 2001 have either dropped out or have failed matric. This is on our watch.
Our Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga’s maths and science task team reports that, “Forty-three percent of… Grade 5 learners failed to reach the lowest international benchmark, in contrast to 5 percent of Grade 4 learners internationally. This means that they have not yet mastered the basic reading skills required to access and retrieve information for reading comprehension purposes.”
Time is running out for us.
A World Economic Forum (WEF) report ranked South Africa second last in the world in maths and science education, ahead only of Yemen. Yet in 2012/2013 we will spend an estimated R234 billion on education. At 21 percent of our budget, it is our biggest line item. The WEF has ranked the quality of South Africa’s state education 133 out of 142 countries in its World Competitiveness Report and most of our pupils perform badly in standardised global tests. This is an indictment.
I do not believe that throwing more money at the problem will solve our crisis of education. We need to agree to an accountability framework built from the ground up and enforced by the state as an employer in partnership with national and local stakeholders.
We need the budgets allocated to schools to be simplified so that parents, pupils, teachers and community leaders all know how much money is budgeted for teacher salaries, purchase of textbooks, stationery, desks and infrastructure.
We need to harness technology that makes this information transparent. We need to identify all those who sit in the line of authority making these decisions, make available their contact details and make them account for all expenditures.
This is public money collected from us as citizens, not a private slush fund for public officials and representatives.
We need to follow the money and measure outcomes from attendance and performance of principals and teachers, reports of sexual or physical abuse, infrastructure expenses on everything from toilets to libraries and all prescribed norms and standards. We need these accessible and public on the internet so communities are able to compare performance.
The overriding priority of our education system is our children, and we need to agree on this. Any actions from any stakeholder threatening these rights, especially during critical periods such as examination time, should be opposed. These were the leadership commitments made in the talks that led to the formation of Sadtu. I was there as the convener; this is what was resolved when Mandela officially launched the union on October 6, 1990.
I cannot understand why today the same union takes actions that endanger the future generation’s hopes and aspirations. I do know that the majority of South Africans want school governance and discipline enforced. And that starts and ends with school principals, who are the direct representatives of the employer – the state. They should be barred from joining unions. - The Mercury
* Jay Naidoo was the first general secretary of Cosatu. He is now chairman of the board of directors and chairman of the Partnership Council of the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN).
** The opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.