Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini File picture: Siyasanga Mbambani

Durban - King Goodwill Zwelithini has decried the poor quality of education in South Africa, saying it is unacceptable that the country ranks even lower than some of the poorest nations on the continent.

The interference by unions, selling of teacher and principal posts, alcohol, drugs, the proximity of taverns to schools and the lack of dedicated teachers were to blame for the current state of education, he said.

Addressing a gathering of high school principals in Ulundi on Tuesday, the king said the time for blaming apartheid is over.

He cited a study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development which showed that South Africa was ranked 75 out of 76 countries.

“While some of these problems could be attributed to the lack of resources during apartheid, we cannot run away from taking responsibility as parents and teachers and you as principals.”

He said some of the schools were in a state that was “never even imagined during apartheid”.

He called on teachers to prioritise education by being dedicated to their children.

“There is a danger when some hold us at ransom when things don’t go their way.

“Those who do so mean they are more important than educating our children,” he said in reference to unions in the education sector.

He lambasted the alleged selling of posts in the Education Department, saying it had impacted negatively on the calibre of teachers that are in the system.

“We should also ask ourselves if we are not the ones who are a problem.

“Most of our problems are created by us, but sometimes we may not be aware.”

The king also accused some teachers of “lacking discipline”.

“In some areas the word teacher has become synonymous with drunkard. The profession is in danger of losing its integrity because there are many who enter the profession because they are seeking employment.

“Teaching is not a place to hide, it is a calling.”

While the department has set a 76% matric pass rate target this year, the king challenged the officials and principals to aim for 80% and above.

“I do not see why you should not aim for 80% this year so that next year, when I celebrate my 70th birthday, you can give me 100%,” he said, to much applause.

KwaZulu-Natal Education MEC Mthandeni Dlungwane said the province would do all in its power to increase its pass rate from the 66% achieved last year to 76% this year. This would also affect the national picture as the province accounts for 23% of matric pupils who are expected to do well this year.

“There are more than 154000 pupils for the province this year. Therefore, if we decline as KZN, nationally there will be a decline.

“As we are going to increase this year, it means that the country will increase,” Dlungwane said.

Stressing the importance of getting the pass rate right in KwaZulu-Natal, Dlungwane said the uMlazi district has registered more pupils than the Free State and Northern Cape provinces combined.

“That shows the magnitude and the level of which the administration in the province is so huge and also puts a serious responsibility on all of us to ensure that we perform.”

However, while the province says it is edging closer to its target for the year, an analysis of results shows that the progressed learners are struggling in subjects such as maths, accounting and agriculture.

In all but one of the 12 education districts in KZN, the progressed pupils scored below 15% in maths.

Only the uMlazi district scored a promising 42% average.

“We have a responsibility to support progressed learners,” said Dr Barney Mthembu, the director of examinations at the department.

Progressed pupils are those who are promoted to matric despite failing twice in the further education and training phase (Grades 10 to 12).

The Mercury