Chalking it up to bad choices for education

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Physics is a fascinating discipline. It gives meaning to ordinate and abstract entities. The principles of physics enhance our understanding of how entities can be made to function optimally.

Entropy as a physics principle states that organised entities will break down at some point if not maintained and reorganised.

Thermodynamics illustrates how the entropy principle works. It comes from a Greek word meaning “transformation”.

And that’s where basic education fits in.

South Africa’s basic education has had a tumultuous history. Severe historical and systemic imbalances unfortunately continue to undermine the nation’s dream for quality education and efficient schooling.

The recent shenanigans about non-delivery of textbooks do confirm the need for entropy for education. Eighteen years on, we still face many challenges including poorly trained and developed teachers; questionable national assessment standards set to pass the National Senior Certificate examinations (Grade 12) which do not compare favourably with our counterparts in Africa and the globe; the collapse of organisational leadership and management, efficacy and work ethics across schools;

ineffective school inventories; access to education facilities without walking long distances; and the

egregious cases of teacher misconduct and negligence.

Perhaps, in our transitional phase to democracy, we did not fully conceptualise and understand the enormity of being in governance. Educationally, we might have been seduced into adopting models whose philosophies were misaligned to ours.

And therein is the litany of inefficiencies caused by the Outcomes Based Education (OBE) system.

We ignored abundant research evidence that militated against its adoption in Africa and elsewhere. Perhaps the muted rumblings for the “people’s education” that once spurred us on contributed to our choice of an incompatible system of education.

Both political expediency and a desire to make a clean break with the apartheid education legacy might have muddied our gravitas and clarity of vision. In countries where OBE was implemented, the challenge had always revolved on resource abundance and professionally skilled personnel (teachers and administrators) to optimise its implementation.

During apartheid, teachers were systematically marginalised from the locus of control, decision-making and curriculum implementation. Before we made such a choice, we ought to have conducted a situational analysis of our capabilities.

I submit that the very foundation of basic education was defective and compromised our mandate to build an educational system that is robust and responsive to the challenges of the knowledge economy.

Our graduates are found wanting in fundamental skills and competencies like literacy, numeracy and analysis. Previous interventions have not improved the quality.

We need new approaches that speak to our vision as a country.

South Africa has brilliant policies on education. Our undoing over the years has been the entropy for accountability across the layers of governance.

First, brilliant policies without clarity of strategy will not improve the quality of education. Clarity of direction and goals, approaches and methodologies are required to change the situation. Second, we should have efficient structures that support strategy, goals etc. And finally, create a conducive environment for behavioural changes.

Clarity of vision and structures must be aligned to people who drive the change. Regular monitoring and adjusting of performance targets should happen seamlessly across the layers of governance.

The entropy of classroom accountability remains a challenge. The calibre of teachers in schools requires serious monitoring to ascertain that effective teaching and learning do happen. Research has shown that teacher commitment has waned, the evidence being the increase in dysfunctional schools and poor performance across the grades.

The current set assessment standards do a huge disservice to the country on quality and competitiveness in the knowledge economy.

We have performed poorly in international assessments like the International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMMS) and Progress in the International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS). And of course, our own national assessment tools do not give much confidence compared to continental and global benchmarks.

I liken teachers to artists. An astute artist understands her genre and audience and must apply artistic skills and competencies that would capture the audience. She must also be a master of stage execution.

Similarly, teachers must know and understand their pupils, their background and diverse scholastic needs.

l Lebusa Monyooe is a commentator with special interest in education and expertise in curriculum design and development.


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