Brian Isaacs writes that we will obtain good academic results if we concentrate on what needs to be done in our schools to change the thinking of education officials around the country. Picture: Ian Landsberg/African News Agency (ANA).
Brian Isaacs writes that we will obtain good academic results if we concentrate on what needs to be done in our schools to change the thinking of education officials around the country. Picture: Ian Landsberg/African News Agency (ANA).

Why we need to take education seriously – and ways to do that

By Brian Isaacs Time of article published Jun 11, 2021

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Becoming a teacher is a serious decision. At the high school where I was a young teacher, a teacher said to her students: “Education is a serious matter!” To the 410 000 teachers and the 12.9 million students (theconversation.com) in our state schools, this statement must be taken seriously. I have stated this on numerous occasions wherever I am invited to speak to school communities.

Yes, we fought for the right for education from Grade 1 to Grade 12. We have partially achieved this in 1994.

At present we in South Africa have secured the right to compulsory education from Grade 1 to Grade 7 or age 15. The fight for compulsory education for grades 10-12 is continuing.

I have always been of the opinion that when you become a teacher you are duty bound to deliver an excellent education to the learners under your care.

I am astounded when the results of the Annual National Assessments Tests in primary schools and high schools show the atrocious results South African learners are achieving.

Also the international tests our students are entered for: we are bottom of the class. Who is to blame for this educational crisis?

Most people will say it’s the government. It is the government that is not training teachers properly and adequately.

Teachers are poorly paid, there is a lack of promotion in teaching, and lack of medical and housing subsidies. Schools lack proper physical buildings, specialised subject rooms, computers, and the list of substantiated complaints goes on.

Looking at all the problems which besiege education in South Africa, is there hope for our learners?

The nine education departments loosely controlled by the National Department of Education are mostly concerned about academic results.

I agree academic results are important. We will obtain good academic results if we concentrate on what needs to be done in schools to change the thinking of education officials around the country.

I want to suggest a few changes to the manner in which education departments have directed schooling and education.

Schooling is about the curriculum and how teachers engage students in the curriculum. Education includes schooling but it allows education officials, teachers, students and parents to engage in a debate on how to improve life and therefore would include discussing the politics of the past, present and future.

I remember when Outcomes Based Education (OBE) was introduced into schools in Grade 1 in 1998, the fanfare that went along with it. It was to make teachers facilitators in the classroom.

At that time South Africa had many unqualified teachers in the system. Instead of dealing with this issue, the new Education Department waved a wand to make all teachers equal without dealing with the facts.

Instead of the teachers going back to school to improve their knowledge and correct the debased education we received under apartheid, the new education department turned its back on teachers.

We had 50 teacher training colleges in South Africa. These were closed down in 1998 and there was a massive cutback by government on the number of students who wanted to do teacher-training.

The role of teacher-training was placed in the hands of the universities. Universities lacked the experienced personnel to educate primary school teachers and Grade 8 and 9 high school teachers. Some 20 000 teachers were retrenched in 1996.

I have made these suggestions in numerous articles as to how we can improve education:

● Scrap the nine provincial education departments and have just a national Department of Education. There would be more synergy within the education department

● All teachers must have the proper qualifications. If not, the department must give teachers a time period to obtain a proper qualification, otherwise these unqualified teachers must leave.

● Teachers must be given the opportunity to teach; bureaucracy must be kept to a minimum

● Assignments and projects are good only if teachers have given students the details on the topic. Assignments and projects should be kept to a minimum. Students must enjoy the learning process and likewise teachers must love the teaching process.

I remember a curriculum adviser saying to me that I was short on an experiment. I said I would take him to the class and he could ask them whether I did the potometer (used to measure rate of transpiration in a plant) experiment and question them on it. He said: “Just see that you have it next year”.

This is why education does not move forward.

* Brian Isaacs obtained a BSc (UWC) in 1975, a Secondary Teacher’s Diploma in 1976, BEd (UWC) in 1981, and MEd (UWC) in 1992. He is a former matriculant, teacher and principal at South Peninsula High School.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

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