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Johannesburg - A top Education Department official this week admitted that outcomes of the country’s education are of poor quality – more so the matric passes.

Matanzima Mweli, acting deputy director-general for curriculum, policy, support and monitoring in the Department of Basic Education, was speaking at a discussion forum at the University of Johannesburg (UJ).

The latest offering of Education Conversations, as the forum is known, looked into primary education successes and failures over the 20 years of democracy.

Kicking off his presentation with gains that have been achieved since 1994, Mweli said “we have made good progress in terms of access” with 98 percent of the country’s children in school and close to 77 percent attending in no-fee schools.

“If you look (into performance) at the lower grades in regional, national and international tests, we have made progress, but in terms of the quality of the passes of our pupils, we’re not yet where we are supposed to be.

“That applies also to your Grade 12 pupils. In terms of the number of bachelors (university entrance passes) that we have, we’re at 30 percent and our target is to at least raise it to about 40 percent.”

He said he took into “account that in most countries, schoolchildren who progress up to university level would be a split of between 40 and 60 percent”.

Of 562 112 pupils who wrote last year’s public school matric paper, only 30.6 percent achieved aggregates qualifying them to enrol at university. The overall pass rate was 78.2 percent, up from 60.6 in 2009.

Mweli’s utterances could be seen to contradict the department’s stance on quality of education outcomes.

Each year, the department sweet-talks the country into celebrating matric results, claiming increases in pass rates indicate


Just last week, the department vehemently defended the standard of the country’s education against a World Economic Forum report, which found the country’s education quality was worst than that of Swaziland, Zimbabwe and Lesotho.

The department had a field day pointing out the obvious flaws of the unscientific study. Mweli listed teachers’ inefficiency as the most pressing challenge for the system.

While the “good news” is that 95 percent of the teachers now have qualifications – up from 53 percent in previous years – “the sad news is that the improved qualifications have not translated to better learning outcomes”.

“Teachers are not teaching as much as they should. We’ve started focusing on that. Analysts are saying if we pay attention to curriculum coverage, it will improve our learning outcomes by close to 40 percent,” Mweli said.

The department wants to get to the bottom of the teacher-development predicament, he added. “We are trying to find out what the problem might be. There’s a large body of research that we’re analysing.”

Another setback on quality of outcomes is “chronic repetition” by pupils, Mweli told the forum. Thousands of pupils fail their grades, only to repeat the year in the same classrooms – especially grades 10 and 11.

“This is a serious problem in the system. It has become so chronic to the extent that some researchers and academics make a big mistake of interpreting repetition for dropout rate.”

He revealed that Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga has made it clear to her staff she demands of them to work extra hard in the new term.

“In the meeting we had with the minister, who was probably fresh from the ANC lekgotla, a message to all of us was very clear: it’s going to be business unusual. The theme for the new administration is going to be quality and efficiency.”

Seated in the same panel with Mweli, Salim Vally, senior researcher at UJ’s Centre for Education Rights and Transformation (CERT), told the forum the basic education system was fraught with “egregious weaknesses”.

“There’s truth in what our citizens know about children who drown in pit latrines, about the Limpopo textbook saga, about the mud schools.”

Mondli Hlatshwayo, a lecturer based at CERT, stood up and lamented what he termed the country’s class-based “two-tier education system”.

“We have one for the middle class and upper class. That seems to be working well,” said Hlatshwayo.

“Then there’s that system, which is dysfunctional, meant for the

working class and the poor. There are so many problems. There are no libraries (in its schools).

“Our education system is reproducing class inequalities, that’s the problem. It’s a disgrace, we’re failing our people.” The government wasn’t adopting “radical thinking” in solving the country’s education problems, said Zwo Nevhutatu, chairman of the Kagiso Trust.

“I’m not very sure that we’re investing in designs and planning properly for quality education in this country.”

He said one example of this was that the government wasn’t talking about eliminating multigrade classrooms, but rather it’s trying to equip teachers in such schools.

Multigrade classrooms include pupils from different grades being taught in the same classroom, as the government won’t supply a sufficient number of teachers. Teacher unions have rejected this system, but it’s still prevalent in provinces including the Eastern Cape, Limpopo, KwaZulu-Natal and North West.

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Sunday Independent