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Tackling jobs crisis demands focused education collaboration

It is common knowledge that the foundation phase is one of the weakest phases where learners just cruise through without proper teaching and learning, says the writer. Picture: Ian Landsberg/African News Agency (ANA) Archives

It is common knowledge that the foundation phase is one of the weakest phases where learners just cruise through without proper teaching and learning, says the writer. Picture: Ian Landsberg/African News Agency (ANA) Archives

Published May 21, 2022


By Hendrick Makaneta

The basic education sector continues to improve access and inclusivity in schools across the country. Today we have more learners who leave the system with a qualification such as the National Senior Certificate.

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Although some of these learners enter TVET colleges and universities and succeed in obtaining a degree, most of them still find themselves in the long queue of unemployed graduates. The key question that must be answered is: Why is it that our graduates still face unemployment?

South Africa’s education system needs to undergo drastic changes to produce leaders who can drive the economy and address structural unemployment. The current trajectory taken by the Department of Basic Education is not sustainable. There is a general fear of mathematics and science in the basic education sector.

The number of learners who take pure mathematics and, by extension, physical science is far less than the number of learners who take mathematical literacy and social sciences. It paints a bleak future in terms of the number of engineers and scientists that the country is likely to produce.

Although unemployment in South Africa is high, the skills shortage in the mainstream economy tells another story. It depicts a problem of graduates who fall by the wayside because their qualifications are not in demand hence, we still sit with the so-called structural unemployment.

We need to invest in the education system by raising the bar for learner achievements as early as the intermediate phase. We need to adjust pass requirements from 30% to 50%. Our learners need to understand that they will need a minimum of at least 50% to be able to proceed into the next grade.

The problem of progressed learners is a cause of great concern. Progressed learners are those who failed but somehow, they have been taken into the next grade even though they do not qualify to be in that specific grade.

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By taking learners who struggled severely with the previous grade and ushering them into the next grade, are we not compounding the problem? Soviet psychologist Lev Vygotsky summarised this problem when he developed the concept of the Zone of Proximal Development in his theory of learning and development.

In a nutshell, Vygotsky implied that learners need to be in the correct Zone of Proximal Development if they are to perform better. Put simply, there is no point in teaching Grade 12 mathematics to a learner who is developmentally in Grade 6. It is a waste of time.

We need to place our learners in their correct Zone of Proximal Development so that proper learning and teaching can happen. This can only be achieved by performing a diagnostic analysis for our learners before they enter a specific grade.

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The Western Cape Education Department has a policy in place to diagnose the problem. Although there are opponents of the policy – from parents and other stakeholders within the terrain of education – diagnostic analysis is in the best interest of the learners.

We cannot continue to set our learners up for failure. It is better for them to repeat a grade in the senior phase rather than face more problems in the FET phase. The lack of interest in mathematics and science among most learners is often caused by the inability of the department to properly engage learners in such subjects.

It is common knowledge that the foundation phase is one of the weakest phases where learners just cruise through without proper teaching and learning. The result of this challenge is that by the time learners arrive in the senior phase, they know extraordinarily little about mathematics.

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We have called on the minister on countless occasions to improve the learning and teaching of mathematics right from the early stage in the development of our learners.

We should have long learnt from countries such as Singapore where the learners continue to excel in subjects such as mathematics and science as proven from time to time by the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Studies (Timss). Timss has exposed South Africa as one of the lowest-performing countries in the world, the second last.

We know very well that not every child is mathematically inclined. But it is the quality of our educational outputs and outcomes and the efficiency of the system in general that is questionable.

Teachers that are produced by our universities reflect those institutions. Most of the time, universities are geared towards theory, hence even teachers from universities are unable to make a dent in the academic development of the child.

We must call on the government to bring back teacher colleges where pedagogy will be geared toward a new teachers with the capacity to produce qualitative learners who will make a meaningful contribution in the mainstream economy of our country.

But over and above, our system of education cannot achieve the intended results if parents do not come on board. Education is a triangle that requires collaboration between teachers, learners, and parents.

* Makaneta is an education activist who is completing an LLB degree at the University of Pretoria