Johannesburg - It will take accountability among education officials and school principals plus vigilant communities to save SA’s education system, according to Graeme Bloch, education expert at the Development Bank of Southern Africa.

“There has to be vision about what is to be done and it has to start with accountability… We first need to get the department officials right and then we can get the principals. We can’t keep on looking for quick fixes.”

He said the Limpopo textbooks saga and the teacher shortage crisis in the Eastern Cape had highlighted the magnitude of the system’s failures.

“I think the wheels have come off. Even in the Western Cape, where the results are said to be good, if you live in Khayelitsha, it’s just the same as in the Eastern Cape. There inequalities are so high. We see that with the annual assessment, when the maths and science results are very poor.”

This reality was reflected in last year’s final matric results. One in six pupils who wrote the maths paper got less than 10 percent and more than half got less than 30 percent for physical science, according to the figures obtained from Umalusi, the body that oversees quality assurance.

According to The Economist, SA spends a bigger share - 20 percent of its national budget and more than 5 percent of its gross domestic product - on education than any other country on the continent. Yet its results are among the worst.

“Around 80 percent of schools remain dysfunctional,” Bloch said, adding that only 15 percent of black pupils got good enough marks to get into university.

Of those who did get in, he added, barely half completed their degrees. SA regularly came last or near the bottom in international literacy, numeracy and science tests, and half of all pupils dropped out before taking the final matric exam.

The government needed to take teacher unions seriously because they had legitimate concerns, especially with regard to the shortage of resources in public schools, he said.

“Trying to blame them won’t help because there are multitudes of problems.”

He warned, though, that pumping funds into education and changing the curriculum alone would not solve the education ills. And unless communities put pressure on government and held it accountable, government plans such as Action 2014 and Vision 2030 would remain useless.

“We are hearing good things from the government, but not sure how they are happening. On the ground, the story is different. There has to be a much more active parental involvement in education. We can’t just rely on NGOs like SECTION27. They are doing a good job, but they are limited.”

Bloch added that the tussles for power between education officials, school governing bodies and principals were equally liable for the underperformance in schools.

“When different stakeholders start fighting and pulling in different directions, there is nothing you can do. Ultimately, the education officials are liable.”

Mary Metcalfe, a professor of education at Wits University, said: “It’s a multilayer problem with many dimensions… from the schools, the district, provincial and national levels. The challenge is to have an appreciation of how to get the different layers functioning, from logistics, HR, curriculum and teacher development. All of these have to be strengthened.” - The Star

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